For The Throne
by Hannah WhittenFollowing the fairytale mashup of For The Wolf, the sequel follows the story of Neve, the older sister who is destined for the throne of Valleyda. Only, she is stuck in the Shadowlands, the dark, magical underworld between life and death which tends to mirror the world above. In theory she's neither alive nor dead in this greyed-out netherworld, so she can dispense with annoying human things like eating or sleeping. But in practice it remains a dangerous place where she could lose her soul, or become twisted by black magic. Old Gods and their offspring lurk there, ready to change people in horrific ways.
Neve is accompanied by Solmir, the villain of the previous volume. Or is he? I found I wanted to re-read For The Wolf to make more sense of what was going on, because although the pieces had seemed to fit together at the end of the first book, by the early chapters of For The Throne a host of new questions arose about the Kings and their role in creating the Shadowlands and turning them into an underworld that corrupts the magic of Valleyda and the Wilderwood. The start of this book needs more recapping because there's so much going on.
Solmir is intent on helping Neve to survive, even though nothing can truly die in the Shadowlands, for reasons of his own. While we wonder what he's truly up to, another story unfolds on the surface as Neve's sister Red attempts to retrieve her sister and understand clues hidden in old books and elsewhere that she hopes will help her to change their fate. While Neve journeys through a land of Old Gods and evil Kings, Red makes journeys of her own, tackling untrustworthy exiled priestesses, magic, and the ripple effects of the seismic events that are tearing the Shadowlands apart.
Raffe, Neve's former flame, has his own dilemmas as he meets a diminutive but handy foreign princess, Kayu. She's next in line to the throne, but doesn't want to be the queen of a cursed throne in a backwater. She joins Raffe, Red, Eamonn, and friends on their quest to rescue Neve, although she is something of an enigmatic outsider.
The story has all of the motifs of fairy tales, such as magic mirrors and serpents to slay, but each is turned to a new or unexpected purpose. Vague prophecies and cryptic carvings play their part, plus a hero's journey past monsters and through an underworld, in search of a Heart Tree. It's a story full of metaphorical potential. A slow-burn love story, as Solmir seems to be less of a monster than Neve first thought, has echoes of Beauty and the Beast. However, the plot twists often, so that just because imagery of a well-known story is in there, it doesn't necessarily follow that the plot will be the same. This isn't a retelling, but its own tale.
The action ramps up until it reaches a crisis point and the characters need to prove what they're made of, whether good or bad, in an emotional showdown. Themes of love bind the characters as tight as the vines in the Wildwood, whether romantic, platonic, or familial love. The story finishes with a really thorough summing-up, a proper ending that explains the fates of all of the main characters and more of the minor characters than I expected. This is a deeply satisfying novel.
12th September 2023
Review © Ros Jackson
Source: own copy