Review: The Orchid Throne by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: The Orchid Throne by Jeffe KennedyThe Orchid Throne (Forgotten Empires, #1) by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, fantasy romance
Series: Forgotten Empires #1
Pages: 362
Published by St. Martin's Press on September 24, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

"The Orchid Throne is a captivating and sensual fantasy romance you won’t want to miss! High stakes. Remarkable worldbuilding. Unique and compelling characters. A slow-burn romance that’ll make you combust.” — Amanda Bouchet, USA Today bestselling author of The Kingmaker Chronicles

"The Orchid Throne captures from the first page and doesn't let go as Jeffe Kennedy weaves a timeless tale of love and survival amidst a lush backdrop teeming greed and deceit. You will fall for Lia and Con and root for them with every breath you take. This is a book that will linger in your thoughts for a very long time."- Darynda Jones, New York Times bestselling author

Welcome to the world of Forgotten Empires from award winning author Jeffe Kennedy that begins with The Orchid Throne.

A PRISONER OF FATE

As Queen of the island kingdom of Calanthe, Euthalia will do anything to keep her people free—and her secrets safe—from the mad tyrant who rules the mainland. Guided by a magic ring of her father’s, Lia plays the political game with the cronies the emperor sends to her island. In her heart, she knows that it’s up to her to save herself from her fate as the emperor’s bride. But in her dreams, she sees a man, one with the power to build a better world—a man whose spirit is as strong, and whose passion is as fierce as her own…

A PRINCE AMONG MEN

Conrí, former Crown Prince of Oriel, has built an army to overthrow the emperor. But he needs the fabled Abiding Ring to succeed. The ring that Euthalia holds so dear to her heart. When the two banished rulers meet face to face, neither can deny the flames of rebellion that flicker in their eyes—nor the fires of desire that draw them together. But in this broken world of shattered kingdoms, can they ever really trust each other? Can their fiery alliance defeat the shadows of evil that threaten to engulf their hearts and souls?

My Review:

A couple of weeks ago I finished The Fate of the Tala, this author’s marvelous wrap-up of her long-running epic fantasy romance series, The Twelve Kingdoms and it’s followup, The Uncharted Realms. I loved every minute of it, and was seriously sorry to see the whole thing end.

Then I remembered that the author had just started another epic fantasy romance series, that I had the first book and hadn’t read it, yet. And wondered what I’d been thinking that I hadn’t gotten around to it.

That oversight had to be rectified, and here we are, at the very beginning of the Forgotten Empires series, with The Orchid Throne. And what a beginning it is!

As the story opens, our hero and heroine are far apart – in position, in outlook and in distance. But not in purpose. Both Euthalia, Queen of Calanthe and Conri, King of Slaves have one driving motivation in common. They will, separately if not together, do whatever they believe is necessary to throw down the usurper Anure.

Anure sent Conri to the deadly vurgsten mines as a slave, and trapped Euthalia in a betrothal that will bring legitimacy to his usurpation of all the kingdoms while most likely sending Euthalia to her death – if not a fate worse than that.

The action and the perspective in The Orchid Throne moves back and forth from Euthalia, trapped in a gilded cage as the Virgin Queen in a court otherwise dedicated to hedonistic pleasures of all types – to Conri, leading his army of slaves and rebels on a collision course to the capital – with Euthalia’s kingdom the last stop on his way.

Each of them has fought the long defeat against the seemingly unstoppable emperor, Conri with battle after battle, Euthalia with spies, honeyed words and the magic that the emperor claims is a fraud.

She’s supposed to capture Conri and present him to the emperor as proof of her loyalty – and as one more delaying tactic in her underground strategy. Conri’s wizard, on the other hand, believes that Con and Euthalia are prophesied to marry and defeat the emperor – but only if they work together for that defeat.

He is the irresistible force, and she is the immovable object. Together they can topple an empire.

Apart, they will smother the last hope of victory. Or they will smother each other and destroy pretty much everything.

Escape Rating A-: There are two ways of looking at this book, depending on whether you picked this up as epic fantasy that included a romance or thought you were getting a fantasy romance in an epic fantasy setting.

The story so far reminds me of a lot of recent fantasy, particularly the Crown of Shards series by Jennifer Estep, The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, the Codex Alera by Jim Butcher, and of course the author’s own Sorcerous Moons series. All of those are fantasies that are epic in scope and just so happen to include a romance as part of the story. And that’s what I was looking for, a fantasy, chock full of battles and politics, with a romance as part of the story but not necessarily the central story. So I loved The Orchid Throne. It had all the scope and worldbuilding of an absorbing epic fantasy.

That it looks like the hero and heroine are going to find something like an HEA by the end is icing on the cake for me. But if you’re looking for that eventual HEA to be at the center of this story you might want to wait until the rest of the series (projected to be a trilogy) comes out. Because the romance so far is a very slow build. I think this will eventually be enemies-to-lovers, but as this installment comes to a close we’re at reluctant-allies-with-benefits. So we’re not there yet and certainly neither are they.

But the world that is built so far is big and desperate and dangerous and awesome. Anure the usurper emperor conquered all the kingdoms with engineering instead of magic – and then wiped out all the wizards so that no one could try and take their kingdoms back. The world we enter is the world his conquest has made – tyranny and fear with only two bright spots – the rebellious King of Slaves and the pleasure kingdom of Calanthe. And Anure already has his hooks deep into Calanthe. The situation looks extremely bleak – only because it is.

A lot of the politics of this story is displayed through Euthalia’s rule of Calanthe, and her ever more desperate attempts to keep Anure at bay. If you like stories of court politics, this part of the story is intricate, fascinating and chilling by turns. There are secrets within secrets and wheels within wheels, to the point where even when this story ends we know little of what Euthalia is really hiding – only that there is a LOT of it.

Conri’s campaign is much more straightforward. His is a brute force conquest because he feels that’s all that’s left to him after the mines. He’s not hiding either his goals or his methods. Instead, he’s hiding his heart.

And we have a meddler in the wizard Ambrose. He’s trying to create the future he wants by manipulating the players of the game – in this case Conri and Euthalia. Players who are stubborn and have minds and motives of their own.

The one point where The Orchid Throne left me grasping at storytelling straws, just a bit, was in the character of its villain, Anure. That Anure is evil is unequivocally true. But why? And, for that matter, how? At the moment he’s like Supreme Leader Snoke in The Force Awakens. We don’t know where he came from or what motivates him into being the evil bastard he so obviously is. I hope his character picks up a little more nuance before he gets his much deserved comeuppance at the end of the series.

But I’m all in for the Forgotten Empires. I already have an eARC for the second book in the series, The Fiery Crown, and I can’t wait to read it!

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