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This Red Queen Collection book is a compilation of various short stories set before and after the events of the series. The first of these stories is ‘Queen Song’, following the life and death of Cal’s mother, Queen Coraine. It is no secret to the court that House Jacos is barely even considered part of the Nortan nobility anymore, so when Coraine Jacos catches the eye of crown prince and heir apparent, Prince Tiberias the VI, her family sees her as a ticket back to the King’s good graces. Pressured by her father and the rest of Norta, Coraine foregoes the tournament of Queenstrial and marries Tiberias. The presence of a bitter rival, Elara Merandus, locks Coraine in a battle of wills to either ensure that her thoughts stay her own, or risk them being used against her.
‘Steel Scars’, the second story, provides insight into the various happenings within the early Scarlet Guard. One of the organization’s officers, Captain Diana Farley, is desperate to prove to the Guard and (begrudgingly) her father that she can be trusted with the orders from the illusive Command. As a result, she and her team go rogue to expand the Scarlet Guard from the Lakelands into nearby Norta. Ignoring correspondence from her superiors, Farley races across Norta, gaining intel and recruiting assets to the cause. Despite her success, however, Command sees her actions as insubordination and threatens to strip her of her post. With enemies closing in all around the country, her rank is not the only thing on the line.
The third story is the only one in the book that is set in neither Norta nor the Lakelands. Instead, ‘World Behind’ takes place on the Ohius River, where Ashe, a Riverman who provides transport to those who can pay, is forced to take Lyrisa, a Silver Piedmont Princess, away from her royal troubles. Little does Ashe know, she murdered her entourage to escape her brutish fiance Orrian, who is now in pursuit of their boat. Stranded on a river in the middle of a wilderness, Lyrisa and Ashe must work together to protect the boat’s passengers from a prince who will go to extreme lengths to have his way. Though the boat ventures farther West, it is not safe from the raging wars plaguing Nortan and Lakelander countries of the East.
The fourth story in the book, ‘Iron Heart’ takes place after the Red Queen series. Following the fall of the kingdom of Norta, the former nobles are required to abdicate their thrones and renounce their titles. As Ptolemus Samos, Evangeline’s brother, prepares to do just that, Evangeline struggles to come to terms with the fact that she has to see her old home; the home she already escaped once. As she delivers her own resignation speech, however, she realizes that she is no longer Evangeline Artemia Samos, Queen of the Rift, Lady of House Samos, Daughter of the late King Volo Samos of the Rift and Queen Larentia of House Viper. She is free to be Evangeline, a queen in her own right, even without a crown.
‘Fire Light’, the final story, is the culmination of the–very literal–slow burn in Mare and Cal’s romantic arc. After the deciding battle in the war between the Scarlet Guard and the Nortan nobles, Mare and Cal reached a mutual conclusion to go on a relationship hiatus to heal from their emotional scars and respective traumas. Neither promised they would wait. While Mare retired to the mountains with her family, Cal acted as an ambassador between the republics of the continent and the developing Nortan States. They did not see each other for months, and neither promised to wait. When Premier Davidson of the Republic of Montfort throws a political convention in the form of a gala, Mare and Cal are forced to cross paths again. Their hearts are healed, but there might not be much space for anyone else inside.
Each of the stories provided unique context into character origins and particular events, or described the impact the plot events made on the world. The book brought back beloved characters and extended the story that personally, I never wanted to end. Using the journal entries, maps, timelines, and family trees, I got to imagine what past Norta looked like to better visualize what it looked like during the series. The stories wrapped several subplots up so perfectly, and the epilogue gave enough closure not to speculate relentlessly, but not so much as to make me stop thinking about the futures of the characters.
In the aforementioned epilogue, the characters’ futures were told in conjunction with the results of major plot points in the series. The future of Norta, the Lakelands, and Montfort was discussed in length and through the history-book-like structure of the last pages, characters’ future lives were revealed. I will forever remember how these characters made such drastic changes where little progress had been made for hundreds of years.
Reviewed by Gabby, Fairfield Area Library