In Review: Protect the Prince

A wonderful combination of courtly conflicts, magic, assassination, and romance.

Protect the Prince by Jennifer Estep

Published by Harper Voyager on July 2, 2019. Oversized paperback of 436 pages at $16.99. Also available as a eBook at $9.99 and digital audio for $26.99.

The cover: The photo illustration is by Tony Mauro and the cover design by Yeon Kim. A woman in a brilliant blue cloak walks forward. Her top, corset, pants, and boots are black. In her left hand she has a sword which drips blood onto the floor of a throne room. Neat, symbolic cover for the dangers that are in this book. Nice, but doesn’t really excite me. I don’t think this cover would compel me to pick it up. Overall grade: C+

The premise: From the back cover, “Eveleigh Blair might be the new gladiator queen of Bellona, but her problems are far from over. First, Evie has to deal with a court full of arrogant, demanding nobles, all of whom want to get their greedy hands on her crown. As if that wasn’t bad enough, an assassin tries to kill Evie in her own throne room. Despite the dangers, Evie goes ahead with a scheduled trip to the neighboring kingdom of Andvari in order to secure a desperately needed alliance. But complicating matters is the stubborn Andvarian king, who wants to punish Evie for the deaths of his countrymen during the Seven Spire massacre. Dark forces are also at work inside the Andvarian palace, and Evie soon realizes that no one is safe. Worse, Evie’s immunity to magic starts acting in strange, unexpected ways, which makes Evie wonder whether she is truly strong enough to be a Winter queen. Evie’s magic, life, and crown aren’t the only things in danger — so is her heart, thanks to Lucas Sullivan, the Andvarian king’s bastard son and Evie’s…well, Evie isn’t quite sure what Sullivan is to her. Only one thing is certain — protecting a prince might be even harder than killing a queen…” I didn’t read the book that came before this, Kill a Queen, so I’m hoping I’m not going to be lost as I read this. This sounds like an outsider queen trying to survive the court and affairs of the heart. I’m going into this as a very reluctant reader, but I’m going to stay as positive as possible. Overall grade: C

The characters: Eveleigh “Evie” Blair is the main character and she’s been the queen for practically a heartbeat. She’s not confident in her new position, but she’s not going to take any crap from anyone. Her debut as queen at the palace is memorable because she reminds everyone of how they treated her when she was no one – and she remembers everything. Helping her maintain her position is a magical power that’s rare. I won’t spoil what it is, but it’s a clever choice by Estep. Evie is very smart and wants to do everything that’s best for the kingdom. Sadly, she can’t be with the man she loves, Lucas, and what happens to him over the course of the book is truly heartbreaking. Lucas Sullivan is the bastard son of King Magnus, who will never be in line for the crown. He loves Evie, but knows she must marry a prince to maintain the line of power. Just when I thought he couldn’t be kicked any lower, Estep went there and I felt his and Evie’s pain. Heinrich Aldric Magnus Ripley is the old king of Andvari. He is not happy with Evie, since she lived while his son died during the previous book’s slaughter, though he has a way to mend fences between his kingdom and the new queen.¬†Crown Prince Dominic is the heir to Andvari’s throne and is the prince that must be protected in the title. He’s not what I expected and that’s good. Dahlia Sullivan is the King’s mistress since the queen died long ago. Everyone in the kingdom knows who she is and her status with the king. She is accepted by all and she accepts her fate. She loves the King and will do all that she can to ensure that he is safe. I really liked her arc. Teenager Crown Princess Gemma was saved by Evie from the slaughter of the previous book and loves the new queen immensely. She has a surprise up her sleeve for Evie and her exuberant and caring nature brought some warmth into Evie’s life when she needed it. I enjoyed her presence. Maeven is one of the antagonists of the book, the turncoat responsible for all the murder and mayhem in the last book. How she appears before Evie was clever and I wish that there had been more of her in the book as her dialogue is wicked perfection. The Bastard Brigade is a group of offspring led by Maeven in causing trouble among the kingdoms, with Evie especially in their sites. They are revealed as spies and assassins among the characters’ houses and appear often. Captain Rhea is the highest member of the Andvarian guard and she wants to see Evie dead because she has a family member that wasn’t saved in that slaughter I’ve referred to. She was a strong woman and I enjoyed what she did. There are several other characters, but these are the most frequently appearing characters. Overall grade: A

The settings: The castles of the two kingdoms are the primary locations. They are what one would expect: large, old, spacious, and grand, with several hidden corridors. However, Estep explains them exceedingly well, so that they come across as fresh locations, rather than used and abused tropes. Overall grade: A+ 

The action: Since the book is told from Evie’s point of view, the reader experiences the action as Evie does making for an exciting read when someone is trying to assassinate her. Being in her head also has the reader following her hopes and fears for what may next be coming her way. I enjoyed when Evie had a moment to think out what her next move was going to be because I felt the tension of the repercussions her choices would have. I wanted to see what would happen next, so I tore through this book. Overall grade: A+

The conclusion: The immediate threat in the novel is discovered, with the identity of this threat surprising, and overcome, however I found myself wanting a resolution to her relationship with a certain individual more. I was incredibly pleased with what occurs and found myself grinning ear to ear with how things are resolved. That said, the door is wide open for another outing of the new queen. Overall grade: A+

The final line: This book exceeded my expectations with the strong and resourceful Evie and the dangers she encounters. A wonderful combination of courtly conflicts, magic, assassination, and romance. I didn’t think I would enjoy this book, but once I began I found myself lost in these characters and this world. I would welcome another book by Estep that focused on these characters and I would actively seek out her previous books. This was highly enjoyable. Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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