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Royal Destiny, by Morgan Howell
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Random House
Published: 2007
Review Posted: 7/9/2008
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 9 out of 10

Royal Destiny, by Morgan Howell

Book Review by David Roy

Have you read this book?

I've enjoyed Morgan Howell's "Queen of the Orcs" series so far, despite some pedestrian prose and some really slow parts. His society-building (I can't really say "world" building because he doesn't really show us much of this world) is top notch, but it too often felt like a travelogue. With the final book in the series, Royal Destiny, Howell has finally moved beyond that. He still shows us more of how the Orcs live, but he doesn't sacrifice the story to do so. This is a riveting finale, marred only by the same prose problems that have hampered the first two books.

Dar, the new Queen of the Orcs, has formed an alliance with the humans who have been treating the Orcs like cannon fodder all these years, but the alliance is delicate. An Orc contingent will protect the humans' queen while her son comes of age, but will do no more killing for the humans. Now Dar faces her own internal struggles, as a faction of Orcs feels that she should not be queen. Along with that, she and the rest of her newfound brethren must face an old adversary who was thought dead, an adversary that could break the alliance and wipe out the Orcs for all time if Dar can't save them.

Royal Destiny, unlike the first two books in the series, moves at a brisk pace, with interesting things happening on both sides. Howell gives us the human viewpoint right away, showing us the main villain as well as Sevren, the human who is in love with Dar, trying to figure out what is going on. In previous novels, the entire book stopped as Dar (and the reader as well) learned many things about Orcish society. This time, these sequences are not only interrupted by actual plot, but they actually have something to do with the plot. Dar is facing a rival Orc faction, so when she is learning what she needs to do, it's in order to keep her place.

Also in previous books, the plot didn't really start moving until late in the book. Because we are seeing all sides from the beginning in Royal Destiny, the plot gets going virtually from the outset, with the villain outlining his plans and Dar facing down her rivals. The reader gets a sense of gathering momentum and things coming to a head much earlier here, and it was a treat to read. There was very little tedium in this book, and I was thankful for that.

Perhaps because I've been familiar with them through two books already, the characters were actually quite well done too. Dar isn't that annoying anymore, and she isn't just an instrument of learning about Orc society. She comes into her own in this book, with some quick thinking as well as true leadership. Sevren is good too, though still a little flat. His main characteristics are courage, a desire to leave the constant fighting and buy a farm, and his love of Dar. He's certainly not boring, though. The various Orcs are also well-portrayed, though occasionally Howell's Orc name system gets a little confusing. Most of them the reader becomes familiar with after a while. Howell also does an excellent job with the villains.

Once again, though, the main weakness of the book is the writing style. Some of the dialogue between human and Orc has the typical sound of making it simple for somebody who doesn't speak the language. That's fine, and realistic too. However, the rest of the prose feels a bit like that as well. It's not obvious, and it's certainly not written at a younger level, but it does come across that way at times. Maybe that's what Howell chose so that the dialogue wouldn't seem so out of place with the rest of the prose, but it aggravated me to no end. Even so, it's not as pronounced as it is in previous books, making Royal Destiny feel like a much better read.

The ending of the book is fitting but yet still comes as a bit of a surprise. I loved the fact that Howell didn't take the story in a typical direction, and Howell even uses a bit of misdirection to make you think it's going one way when it's really going to go another. That being said, the climax of the action left a little something to be desired. The final confrontation was interesting and well-written, but the results of it left me a little cold. I can't say much more without spoiling it, but basically I would have preferred a bit more magic and a bit less metaphysics.

Ultimately, "The Queen of the Orcs" series is a flawed but still enjoyable series, though perhaps one you should check out at the library first. Howell's writing is good enough that I'd definitely love to sample his next series, if only to get something different and see if the problems were series-based or part of his writing. I'll be looking for his next book, but in the meantime, Royal Destiny is a fitting conclusion, and the best book in the series.
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