In Nik Korpon’s Queen of the Struggle, the follow-up to The Rebellion’s Last Traitor, we are faced wondering what happens if your life is only about rebellion. After you spent your whole life fighting against tyranny to free a city, can you really go back to being a normal person? And what do you do when you are asked to join a new rebellion, away from the city you love? Korpon mixes these questions, along with a lot more, into an amazing sequel that delivers an introspective sci-fi noir story.
It is six months after the events of Rebellion with Henraek and Emeriann wrapping up the last bits of fighting with the Tathadann. The Ragjaron, people from the north, and Daghda Morrigan have joined the rebels to squash the Tathadann and restore peace to Eitan City. Daghda Morrigan, the fabled savior from the first book, brings his daughter Brighid to help rebuild the city. Right away we are thrust into the action with the groups all working together. It felt like coming back from a trip to catch up with friends and no time had past.
Korpon, following his style from the first book, has you bouncing between Henraek and Emeriann. Each chapter shows us how the two are adjusting to life with Henraek’s son Donael and Walleus’ son Cobb. The transition from battle to domestic life is pretty entertaining and delivers a nice respite from the fighting and political intrigue.
We get to see a different side of Henraek and how he is trying his best to be a good father and make up for lost time. Emeriann seems to have no problem with taking on the roll of mother, making sure there is always food and a safe place for the children to sleep. I like these moments that Korpon gives us, they make Henraek seem more human and not just a hard boiled detective willing to do anything to get what he wants. But, since these moments are at the beginning of the book, we know that this peace isn’t going to last.
Quickly events unfold putting Eitan City back into turmoil and separates Emeriann from Henraek and the children. Henraek is sent up north to help the Ragjorn find some rebels trying to destroy their peace, and Emeriann is tasked with helping Brigid find the remaining rebels in the city. This opens up the world and takes us out of the dirty battle ridden city and out into a cold snow covered community. There are some great scenes as Henraek and sons are on a boat in the ocean, the first time for any of them to see a body of water like this. It’s a punch to the gut when you realise that Eitan City has been rationing water because they don’t have any. I really enjoyed this change of scenery and idea of the larger world that we have yet to explore in Korpon’s series.
Being in two different locations, without the support of each other, Emeriann and Henraek have to rely on their instincts to navigate this change. We’ve only really seen Emeriann through Henraek’s eyes, but now we are taken into her head. And she is just as tough and smart as we knew she would be. This perspective switch is perfect and highlights Emeriann, giving us an excellent opportunity to watch her develop as a character.
The chemistry between Emeriann and Brigid is great. To witness the switch from friend to enemy to friend is amazing, because you find yourself trusting Brigid. You also start to wonder what it means to be a rebel after the rebellion is finished. When Emeriann sees Brigid’s plans for the city she wonders why she didn’t think of them, she then asks herself if they were really prepared for all the work that comes after the fight. Emeriann isn’t sure if her destiny is violence and not to build. This introspection levels the characters and deepens the dimension Korpon had been building.
On the other side of the world, we witness the dynamic between father and sons. Henraek is trying his best to be a father, keep them safe, and teach them right. But, as the story progresses he realises his son is turning out just like him. This injects a bit of mental tension instead of the physical tension in the first one. It comes to a head as Henraek tries to secretly help the rebels in Ragjorn, work with the leadership of Ragjorn, and try to tell Donael that even though it seems like he is being a traitor again, he is really just doing what he can to keep Donael and Cobb safe.
All of these plot lines weave together to deliver an excellent sequel. I know that there can be a fear that the sequel will just be a rehash of the first one. However, here we have a very different beast. Besides the switch of characters and locations, you aren’t really tied to one man’s quest. Instead we have a very introspective novel about rebellion and trust. The story itself is a lot more darker than Rebellion, digging into what someone is willing to do to make a society better, even if it means losing a piece of yourself.
We are also not stuck wading through a book that is meandering until the next one in the series. Korpon does set up a couple of things for the next novel, and there is a bit of a cliffhanger, because there has to be another book. But, I never felt like I was waiting for something to happen or reading a bunch of scenes that’ll be resolved later in the series.
Overall Queen of the Struggle is an excellent follow-up to Rebellion’s Last Traitor. I loved being able to jump right back into the world and meeting back up with Henraek. I did get a little mad with the end of the book only because it ends like all great sequels in a trilogy(I’m guessing), with a cliffhanger that left me cursing Korpon. I really hope we do get that third book so that we see what happens to that ravaged Eitan City. So, if you are looking for a gritty sci-fi noir that is full of introspection and intense action this one is for you.
Queen of the Struggle is published by Angry Robot and is available to purchase here.
Nik Korpon is the author of several books, including The Soul Standard and Stay God, Sweet Angel. He lives in Baltimore with his wife and two children.
Reviewed by Matthew Brandenburg
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