The Steel Queen CoverThe Steel Queen
The Flame Priest
The Skeleton King

by Karen Azinger


This is going to be a very unusual review for me, wherein I will gush praise for a self-published series.

I read these about a month ago, during a brief period of unemployment. There are currently six books in the series, with the final seventh volume due out toward the end of the year.

I found these books while looking for a warrior-woman story. I ended up getting a warrior teenager, but she grows up quickly, so I shall not quibble with that. I absolutely devoured these first three books. I didn’t continue reading only because I like to take books in series three at a time. I plan to start reading the series again in September, and hopefully the last book will be coming out by the time I am ready for it.

At the center of this story is Princess Katherine, who is the only daughter among five brothers who are all warriors. She wants nothing more than to be a warrior as well, but that is forbidden to women in her kingdom. She lives in a castle that is fortified with some sort of long-forgotten magic, and which is home to the Octagon Knights, of which she longs to be a part.

The story begins when she tricks a newly-made knight into promising to train her as a warrior.The Flame Priest

Meanwhile, something evil is wakening. Twenty or thirty years earlier, the Mordant has his executioner kill him so that he may be born again. His rebirth is due, and his kingdom is stirring. A messenger comes south out of his lands with a warning, but the only one who listens to his cryptic message is Kath, and the reader doesn’t find out what it means until book 3.

It’s hard to write about three books without spoiling book one and two. So I’ll speak in general terms.

First–these characters are great. Ms. Azinger can really get behind the eyeballs of her characters and make you feel what they feel. The evil characters seem unstoppable, and the good characters are playing constant catch-up. The deities of the evil characters give them all sorts of advantages, and the good characters seem to be hopelessly left in their dust. Or, in their trail of bloody body parts.

And the plot has some of the most unique elements I’ve read in a long time. Sure, the over-arching plot of the dark lord is familiar, but the execution is fresh. For example, the Mordant is a harlequin, which is a soul that has been reborn over and The Skeleton King Coverover because he has pleased his evil deity with his dark and bloody deeds. And once he is reborn, he has to get back to his old kingdom and prove who he is by passing all these tests that he, himself, devised. In the meantime, other, younger harlequins–and one harlequin wannabe–are trying to out-do each other with their evil-deeds-doing in order to please their deity so they might be reborn again. And as the reader, you don’t know about the secret harlequins, the identities of which, once revealed, are devastating.

The story is told from multiple viewpoints that include two warrior princesses, a bard prince who ventures into an evil theocracy, his native guide from the theocracy, an archer who travels with one princess but falls in love with the other, two Octagon Knights, the queen of a wealthy and powerful nation, her evil son, a candidate harlequin who ventures into the evil theocracy to make it even more evil, and of course, the Mordant, and more.

I loved this series and may not be able to wait to read more.