Title:The War of Two Queens
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Genre: Magic, Fantasy, Romance.
What It’s About: Casteel Da’Neer finds himself in a dark cell, having given himself up in order to save his wife–Penellaphe (“Poppy”)–from being taken by the Blood Queen, officially known as Queen Ileana. Queen Ileana is really Isbeth, Poppy’s mother and also the mistress/heartmate of Malec, who is the ex-husband of Queen Eloana, Casteel’s Mother. He knows that this act will potentially weaken him, and bring him into bloodlust, which he will try to stave off for as long as possible, but he would give himself up again to save Poppy. Occasionally, the Handmaidens show up to take blood from him, and eventually Isbeth herself shows up to talk to him for a moment about what she hopes for Poppy and what she has done in order to get where she is. It turns out that Isbeth is not the Ascended–she is a demis–not quite a god but not quite a human.
Poppy and her contingent of wolves, Atlantan soldiers, make their way towards a smaller town near Oak Ambler–which they intend to capture to make their assault on Oak Ambler. As they near the walls of the Rise of the town, they find that there are a lot of bodies tacked up onto the wall, with the white headdress covering their faces–a nod towards Poppy’s time as The Maiden. Her group runs through the whole town, taking out only those who try to attack them, and leaving those who have not taken up arms or those who put down their arms against them. They march up to the castle, round up the Ascended hiding there, and kill them for what they did to the humans–it turns out that the Ascended living in the town have been taking the humans out to the forest and turning them on purpose. Then they wait for the rest of the armies to show up.
Poppy struggles with sleeping at night even with Kieran sleeping at her side in his wolves form. One night she has a dream that seem too real–but one in which she meets with Casteel at a cavern and they make out. Upon waking up, she can smell Casteel, and when Kieran senses her awake, he wakes up and together they figure out that what Poppy really experienced was dream walking–sometimes heartmates can find or seek each other out in dreams. Soon after, Poppy walks around the grounds, and encounters Reaver–the draken–in mortal form, and they speak about a variety of subjects including how she shouldn’t be wandering around alone. Suddenly, Kieran shows up and tells her that there has been a message delivered for her, so the group heads back towards the castle, where one of the Atlantians brings her a box–one that requires her blood to open it. Inside is Casteel’s right pointer-finger; the same one that had the ring that he began wearing when they got married. Kieran quickly slaps the lid shut and Poppy rages. She starts marching back towards the castle, with the intention to go after the Blood Queen for hurting Casteel. The energy inside her rises and starts whipping up a fierce storm as she gets a single-minded focus. Kieran fights his way through the Primal Notam–the mechanism that connects the wolven to Poppy’s will, and often making them take on their wolves form rather than stay in their human form–and speaks to Poppy telling her that she really does care about the people and so does Casteel, which is why she shouldn’t go out in full-out destruction mode because it will be detrimental to their plans. Poppy calms down, and eventually, they burn Casteel’s finger, while Poppy holds onto the ring. Kieran and Poppy make the decision that they are going to go after Casteel once they take over the Oak Ambler, and Kieran recommends that Poppy make someone else the Regent in her stead–she chooses Vonetta. At night, Poppy wanders around the floors and heads into the Library, where she encounters the old woman who has been hanging around the castle for a while, and who attempts to stab Poppy, claiming that she serves the True King.
Not too long after, the same woman sets up a major storm with lighting that ends up killing some of the Draken–leaving only three out of the seven or so that had come with them. Poppy feels for these losses, and as the woman continues to go on spewing stories that she serves the One True King, Poppy has her killed, unable to continue listening to this.
The Atlantan Generals finally arrive, and Poppy meets first alone with King Valyn–Casteel’s father–who tells her that he’s known about Isbeth for a while, and explains why they decided not to do anything about it. After all, they had incurred very heavy losses and when the war ended, it was just easier to let it all be and take satisfaction with the end of the war. He clears the air with her, and tells her that he’s glad she’s his family member. The announcement to the generals about their plan–how they will take Oak Ambler and how Poppy and Kieran will go to get Casteel, while Vonetta will be the Regent acting on her behalf, is met with some level of surprise and pushback, but ultimately the Generals agree to follow the plan.
In the meantime, Casteel continues to be in captivity, and he is visited by Millicent, the Revenant who tells him that he will be the only one that will be able to kill Poppy when she becomes the Harbringer of Death and Destruction. She is there at great risk of herself, but has been asked to check in on him. Not long after, Malik shows up and heals Casteel’s infected wound–the result of his finger being cut off to send to Poppy. He tells Casteel that it’s not all as it seems, but does not respond to much more than that.
The siege on Oak Ambler goes well–there were many people who left but there were also many who were stopped from leaving by the soldiers on the rise. When they refused to lay down the weapons, the siege began, and they were quickly able to overtake the village, going as far as the inner rise, destroying it and entering the castle–with the help of some soldiers who put down their arms after Poppy speaks to them in the middle of the battle. These soldiers help Poppy find her way around the castle, and they go down into the basements, which are full of craven resulting in one of the Wolven Generals, Arden, getting killed. This is the second time that Poppy gets confirmation that she’s unable to bring back those who are of two worlds–wolven and draken–to life. But they are shocked to find out that all of the servants had been turned, and later they also find women hung on the walls of the great hall wearing the same veil of the Handmaiden as those in the town near by. The biggest shock, however, is when they go to the temple to find the children that were taken mere weeks before, only to find that they are no longer alive–their bones part of a big well of bones, hidden deep within the temple.
After liberating Oak Ambler, and seeing to it being established safely, Kieran and Poppy head their way through the backroads to Carsodonia. Poppy has another dream where she sees Casteel, who tells her that Isbeth is a demis and to ask Kieran to clarify. Poppy does tell Kieran who tells he exactly what a demis is–not a god, but more powerful than an ascended and can do things that an ascended cannot. They continue to make their way to Carsodonia, only to be met by the Revenant (who Poppy does not know is Millicent) and a handful of Handmaiden. The Revenant tells Poppy that Isbeth is inviting them over to discuss some things, and reluctantly, Kieran, Reaver (who has been traveling with them) and Poppy go with her, after Poppy passes out.
She wakes up in Carsodonia two days later with Kieran by her side, and recognizes the room that she had grown up in. They talk, and then Millicent comes with the invitation to meet the Queen, bringing along a white dress. Poppy tells her absolutely not, and that it is her problem to find a better fitting dress because she will not wear white, and in the case she would go dressed as she is. Millicent brings an outfit in black, that Poppy agrees with. They show up at an event to listen the Queen bless some of the mortals, and say that there are cities that are falling to the Harbinger of Death and Destruction. Isbeth’s words make Poppy boil because she is not a Harbinger, and does not believe herself to be one, but she almost lashes out except that Millicent asks her if she really intends to do that. Eventually, Poppy does speak with Isbeth, who grants her the option to either see her father or Casteel, and Poppy chooses to see Casteel.
The group takes her down to see Casteel, and Poppy is appalled by how he looks–he has definitely fallen into bloodlust, because he doesn’t even recognize her at all, and the shadow stone has been choking him around the neck. Poppy goes to him and eases enough of his hunger and edge for him to realize that she’s there in his arms, and they talk momentarily, before Poppy demands that he have blood and food. Isbeth promises to bring something over, and after some more back and forth, with a push from Casteel, Poppy leaves with Isbeth. As Casteel thinks things over–he wanted Poppy to leave so that he wouldn’t harm her–Millicent comes to him having blood sprayed all over herself and asks him if he would be okay if she washes it off in the cold bathtub that is sitting nearby. He shrugs it off, and she dunks her head and face in there–the paint in her hair and the paint on her face coming off, to reveal that she looks a lot like Poppy. Turns out that Millicent is Poppy’s sister–she is the first child of Isbeth and Ires, but she doesn’t have the powers like Poppy does and she did not survive the Culling, which Poppy is going through. As a result, Isbeth utilized her knowledge of creating Revenants to save Millicent’s life.
Poppy returns to her room, and reaches out to Kieran through the notam, and they make the decision to run away that night, before things get drawn out by Isbeth even more, and she finds other ways to use Casteel against them. So Poppy creates the mist to cover their runaway, and Kieran, Reaver and Poppy leave their rooms, killing some guards along the way. They manage to escape into the mist, and keep making their way towards the temple, which Poppy thinks is the closest to where Casteel is being held. Only for them to be caught by Malik. At first Kieran does not trust Malik, but Malik reveals that he’s done a lot of things that he didn’t want to because Millicent is his heartmate, which is why he’s stuck around for so long. Poppy takes him for his word, and he shows them to Casteel. As Casteel is once again in a bloodlust, they knock him out, but keep his hands chained together so that they can control him better. Between Kieran and Malik, they carry Casteel out, and Malik takes them to a safe house of one family who is part of the Descenter movement, under the cover of the mist.
There, Casteel wakes up, and feeds off of Poppy until he comes off of the bloodlust, and they continue to have sex throughout the night and the morning. At the same time they share what they’ve learned–with Casteel holding out on telling Poppy that Millicent is her sister, and that he will be the one that will have to kill her, because he does not believe that. The next morning, Casteel tells Poppy about Millicent, which surprises her, but what is more of a shock to them all is when Poppy realizes that Malik was the one who had been the Dark One the night her parents had fled and ultimately died in the Craven attack at the hostel. He was the one that almost killed her before she passed out–and he reveals that he couldn’t bring himself. Casteel is pissed off upon hearing that, despite the fact that Poppy tells him several times that Malik was also the one who saved her life, as all the pieces suddenly fell into place about what happened that night. She has to actively separate the fight between Casteel and Malik by using her eather and willing it to be so.
Unfortunately, their newfound knowledge has to be put to the side, as it turns out that the Queen’s guards are looking for them; they’re two doors down. They try to run, but unfortunately, they are surrounded, by the guards, and the Queen comes in to speak with them. She claims that she wanted to speak with Poppy and that she truly does love her, but also asks her to get Malec for her, now that she knows he’s still alive somewhere. At first Poppy tells her no, but one of the Queen’s Revenants–Callum–cuts Kieran and utters a Primal curse, which leaves that cut open for him. The Queen gives them one week to find Malec, which Poppy negotiates to two weeks–or Kieran dies. She also asks to take Malik with them, and at first Malik tries to go back to the Queen, until he gets knocked out by someone, and the Queen tells her that she can take him as she’s getting tired of him. But she has the two mortals that helped them, killed. This causes Poppy to get angry and let go of her magic, which goes knocking down windows and houses, and essentially terrifying the people in this section of the town. Casteel calms her, while Isbeth smiles–which makes it evident that she’s trying to push Poppy’s buttons to get her to show her powers and prove Isbeth’s stories to the people as correct in that Poppy is the Harbinger of Death and Destruction.
Poppy calms down and then the contingent leaves with each other to meet with Vonetta. Reaver tells them that he doesn’t know whether the curse can be lifted or what type of curse it is, but considering the Joining, they should be fine. This gets Poppy thinking that maybe she should do the Joining with Kieran and Casteel, and when she does talk to Casteel about it eventually, he tells her all about what it is and requires, but tells her that she needs to be sure, so the only time he would agree to do it is once they come back from finding Malec. They make it to the town, and Casteel is emotional on seeing all the wolven who are so happy to see him and seeing his father. Malik is also emotional when he sees the wolven, but more stoic with his father. They have a feast, and speak with the generals, which is when Valyn reveals that he and Eloana had kept a secret–Queen Ileana is really Isbeth. And they make plans on what to do next.
Obviously, a group of them heads out to the Blood Forest, with Poppy and Casteel, to find Malec–they do eventually find the location of Malec’s resting place, based on Eloana’s description, but they have to keep going further to find it–it’s in a cave near the ruins. There, they encounter Sentry Gryms, who they fight off and kill with Reaver’s help, and then go in, retrieve the casket containing Malec, before heading back to the same town.
Since Poppy still is certain about the joining, Casteel takes her to meet with Kieran at the river, where they perform the Joining, and essentially have a threesome–one in which Poppy is unsure who is touching her, who is having sex with her, and who is the one that comes on her back. It is a very wonderful feeling for her though, as she gives in to her sexual urges and they see the strands joining them together surround them and then sink into their skin.
The following day, Casteel tells his father that he is ordering his father to stay in this town with Vonetta, the Regent. With few words, his father understands that they have gone through the joining–and all three could die, leaving Vonetta to be the next ruler of Atlantia, resulting in her needing to lean on someone trusted.
The group heads towards the Temple chosen by Queen Isbeth as their meeting place, where Callum takes the curse off of Kieran, and Queen Isbeth cries over the casket holding Malec who is still alive. Millicent comes to them and whispers that something is wrong, and before they know it, Isbeth stabs Malec–her heartmate in the heart. It turns out that she could not bring herself to kill Poppy to do what needed to be done, so she’s sacrificing Malec. All hell breaks loose, and weird black, oily animal-looking things start coming out of the shifting cracks in the earth. These things start killing anything and everyone around them, no matter how much Poppy tries to save everyone she loves–she sees Hisa go down, and other individuals go down in the fight. Millicent screams that they have to get to Malec and pull the sword out to stop this, and so Kieran, Casteel, and Poppy try to make their way there, though it’s really hard. Then Delano gets killed while protecting Poppy, and that breaks her. She suddenly recalls what Tawny has told her when she saw her for the first time–that she already knows The Consort’s name. And so Poppy screams it–all of a sudden she starts shifting and changing, finishing her Culling–which terrifies Isbeth, who also says that this is not possible and she’s not yet ready. Feeling stronger and a pressure on her, Poppy pulls out the knife out of Malec, and then screams at Isbeth for all that she has done including telling her that she will not be remembered at all for what she has done. Poppy then kills Isbeth, disintegrating her. Nektas shows up and takes care of some of the soldiers and the oily animals, while white globes start to drift down to people and animals.
Poppy passes out and is woken by Casteel, who is so happy to see that she’s okay. He realizes she has her sharp pointy teeth, and tells her that it will take a moment to get used to them. He also tells her that Millicent ran off and Malik followed her. As Poppy looks around, she realizes that all of the people who had been killed–including Delano–are alive again, and wonders how that is possible. It is Nektas who reveals that The Consort and Nyktos had the two boys in the human realm to protect them from Kolis, and they are not Primals of anything–just gods. In fact, there should not have been any more Primals born after Nyktos based on the deals that were made to bring Kolis under control, but that Poppy is the first Primal born, and the one who is both Primal of Life and Primal of Death. Until then, those two have always been separate, so it is to be seen what will happen with one Primal of Life and Death. He tells them that The Consort gave the lives back to all of these people because they will need all of them in the fight ahead–Malec lives for now, and while Kolis is not back to his power, he’s woken. So their fight will be with Kolis and his supporters, so they will need all of the help that they can get. He also tells them a bit about the story of The Consort, and who she was before she became The Consort. Poppy, Casteel and Kieran realize that it will be a long way forward, and things are to be seen.
My Thoughts: As always, another book with so much punch to it; so much to understand and uncover. I have been loving the writing of this series, and how much it plays on all the heartstrings. Specifically, I love seeing thing from Casteel’s point of view for once, and seeing how much he worships Poppy. Then I am curious about Poppy’s and Kieran’s relationship–she loves him and he loves her in a way that is not romantic but also not quite friendship-based. Part of me wonders if this is them falling in love and building their bonds through closeness spent after Casteel’s kidnapping, or it’s a trauma based bond due to the loss of someone they both love. I’m also questioning Kieran’s feelings around Casteel–this is another one where I feel like at least Kieran may have feelings for Casteel, but Kieran is so darn vague about how he feels that I have no idea what to make of it. From there, you find out that Malik and Millicent are heart mates–but the problem is that he is the only one out of the two that knows, which makes me question on whether Millicent becoming a Revenant has impacted her ability to recognize her heartmate. At the same time, Malik staying in Isbeth’s grasp for Millie has to be a huge sacrifice, and to do it for decades and decades is incredibly hard. I still question where his loyalty lies.
I’m curious to see if a relationship that develops between Millie and Poppy, Millie and Malik, Malik and Casteel again. I’m curious to find out if the Joining means that now Kieran, Casteel and Poppy will become a threesome, or how Kieran’s relationship to the other two will be–Poppy and Casteel are after all, Heartmates, so there will be a much deeper bond between the two of them.
It is interesting to see Reaver in this story–especially considering the A Shadow in The Ember has him appearing as a smaller, younger version. So now we get to see him through two stages of his life, and I am wondering what happens in his younger life that makes him so grumpy and dry now–he’s almost sarcastic 99.9999999% of the time, and I don’t know if that is just personality or trauma.
That said, I feel like with the end of this book, it’s really the end of the series, even though there is a 5th and 6th book. It almost feels like there shouldn’t be a 5th and 6th book–because the problem with Isbeth has been resolved, so there is a closure with the main evil person in the series–and anything else would be unnecessarily prolonging the series. While yes, Kolis is awake, he’s still bound and if they don’t do anything to unbound him and make him stronger, he should not be a problem. Heck, they could have had an epilogue where they go, find him, and kill him, just be done with it.
So I wonder what kind of revelations there will be in book 5 and 6 to keep this series interesting. Rarely have any series made the leap from one source of evil to another successfully keeping the series relevant and interesting-at least for me. We’ve been building up for so long that Poppy is going to come after Isbeth, she’s public enemy #1, that knowing that Kolis is going to be a problem in the next book makes me go “really, again?” and the author is going to have to build up that fight for us all over again, so it feels like it should be a new series all together.
I guess it’s wait and see on that front–so that’s what we will do. But in the meantime, this book was a really good read, and I highly recommend.