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And really, how often does that happen? As I plodded through The Queen’s Bastard, I blew through The Pretender’s Crown. I don’t know why, but I love the sequel and stayed up until one in the morning to finish it. This one explores more characters, where the first was mainly about Belinda and I even like Belinda this time around.

At the end of Queen’s Bastard, Belinda’s alter-ego was outed, she and Robert Drake were negotiating their ways out of Sandalia’s prison, Sandalia’s cup was poisoned by Belinda and the world was moving towards war. 

The book opens with an explanation about the witchlords’ home. They come from the stars and are trying to stay ahead of their enemies. Planets are chosen for conquest, but the conquest is not forceful; it is a quiet infiltration, manipulating those in power and prodding advances in technology. Once the advances are made, the other beings harvest the world for what they need and move on, leaving the planet to fend for itself if other groups attack. Not very nice, at all.

In this book, both Javier and Belinda have a better grip on their magic and a third potential is introduced: Irina’s daughter, Ivanova also has the witchlight and she plays a role in the coming war (And if Murphy ever does a third book, I hope it is about Ivanova). Belinda is trained by Dmitri, while Javier is figuring it out on his own. The magic is revealed to the public and both have to spin it so that they are not tied up and burned at the stake. Javier uses his silver magic as a Gift from God, while Belinda is claimed to be the avatar of the Madonna. And both are loved by their people for what they can do.

More about the original witchlords are also introduced and the reader sees how Robert Drake, Dmitri and their third, Seolfor, try to bring the world to the same conclusion. A lot of Robert’s manipulations are brought to light, especially regarding how he raised and treated Belinda. Unfortunately for them, Belinda has different ideas about what she wants for her world and it isn’t serving their otherworldly queen. They all use the war to bring about the changes that they want.

What is even more interesting is that Belinda is allowed to step forward and claim her place as Lorraine’s rightful heir, rather than being a well-kept secret. She uses this position to work out how to wrest control from her father. It is because of this new position that she begins to create her own destiny. Her brain still equates power with sex and that bleeds into her training with Dmitri. Lorraine realizes that Belinda is pregnant and orders the girl to get rid of it. Belinda is denied the luxury of a forbidden pregnancy, something that Lorraine had hidden and worked for. Belinda then does what she can to deliver the babe and see that it lives.

Javier is named King of the lands his mother ruled and his ambition finally comes to the forefront. He unites his lands and finds support from the other countries to try to bring Aulun back to the one true religion. He also re-unites his circle of friends, however briefly, before they go to war. However, his new position as King and his abilities cause some contention between them and the fallout is heartbreaking in some ways and eye-opening in others.

There is one other surprise buried in the book, one that is necessary. It is revealed that Lorraine did not have just one child. After Belinda was born, Lorraine gave birth to her twin. A boy. Javier. Which makes Belinda and Javier’s relationship from the first book incredibly wrong. That’s a line that I don’t like to cross. And both the characters have trouble dealing with the moral consequences of what they had done, even if it was unknowingly.

I think the best part of this book was seeing everyone grow into their roles. While they were all still unsure in The Queen’s Bastard, The Pretender’s Crown has a cast of young characters who have the world at their feet and know what they want to do with it. It’s a different, more public playing field. But it was so worth the lack of sleep.

Another interesting note. This book ends where the first began. In the birthing chamber and the murmur of the words “It must not be found out.”