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A Fantasy Duology That Finally Fulfilled the Enemies to Lovers Sized Hole in My Heart: The Bridge Kingdom by Danielle L. Jensen Review

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I mentioned a a few posts back in my review of Radiance by Grace Draven that I was working on a review of The Bridge Kingdom duology and here it finally is!

So I desperately want to love books that are marketed as “enemies-to-lovers” but until now I have yet to find any book that fulfills this trope to the extent that I always hope it will. Look, there’s nothing wrong with a book being considered “rivals to lovers” or even simply “we got off on the wrong foot to lovers” but when I say I want enemies to lovers, I mean enemies. I want my characters to be actively plotting how they’re going to kill each other before they finally realize that they actually don’t want to kill each other. Most of the time, enemies-to-lovers boils down to two characters who had some sort of miscommunication and once they finally talk to each other then they’re fine. Personally, I think that this trope fits in best in fantasy settings so when I was watching a video from Riley Marie about another trope I enjoy (video is hyperlinked through her name) and when she suggested The Bridge Kingdom duology I jumped at the chance to read it. And let me tell you, it was everything I was looking for in an enemies-to-lovers book. If you’re interested in hearing more of my thoughts on the books, keep reading!

The Bridge Kingdom Review

The Bridge Kingdom (The Bridge Kingdom, #1)
Image: Cover of The Bridge Kingdom by Danielle L. Jensen

Synopsis

A warrior princess trained in isolation, Lara is driven by two certainties. The first is that King Aren of the Bridge Kingdom is her enemy. And the second is that she’ll be the one to bring him to his knees.

The only route through a storm-ravaged world, the Bridge Kingdom enriches itself and deprives its rivals, including Lara’s homeland. So when she’s sent as a bride under the guise of peace, Lara is prepared to do whatever it takes to fracture its impenetrable defenses. And the defenses of its king.

Yet as she infiltrates her new home and gains a deeper understanding of the war to possess the bridge, Lara begins to question whether she’s the hero or the villain. And as her feelings for Aren transform from frosty hostility to fierce passion, Lara must choose which kingdom she’ll save… and which kingdom she’ll destroy.

This book was so much fun to read. I’ll admit that I thought the story was slightly outrageous at times but I’ve never read a fantasy romance before and I think that this might be a new favorite genre for me if I’m lucky enough to find more books like The Bridge Kingdom.

From the very beginning I was entranced by the plot, this book threw us almost straight into the action and while it wasn’t necessarily what I expected I was intrigued to see where the story went. Our main character, Lara, has trained for most of her life alongside a number of her sisters in order to one day potentially be chosen to wed the king of Ithicana, or the Bridge Kingdom. Ithicana is seen as a power hold because the bridge that crosses over it is an essential trade route and Lara has been trained to see this bridge as a way to save her homeland from ruin. For her entire life she has been told by her father and her mentors that Ithicana is a selfish kingdom that only cares about gaining riches for themselves and so when she becomes the daughter that will wed Ithicana’s king, Lara knows she will do anything in her power to destroy the Bridge Kingdom and save her home.

The Bridge Kingdom was a delightfully angsty slow burn romance. At times, I genuinely forgot that this was supposed to be a romance because of the way that Lara had been so thoroughly brainwashed by her father and mentors. There were so many moments where evidence showing her the opposite of what she was taught were right in front of her and yet Lara constantly fought against that. It was frustrating but so realistic to the power that being brainwashed can hold on someone. As I watched Lara and Aren dance around each other waiting for one of them to slip up but also both falling for each other I was delighted with their chemistry and the path the story took.

The angst in this duology is honestly next level. As the story went on I enjoyed reading Lara’s inner battle with her duty to her home kingdom, her personal mission, and her conflicting feelings regarding Aren and Ithicana. Aren trusted Lara long before she trusted him despite the fact that everyone close to him still warned against trusting her so much. Lara wants to take down Ithicana because ultimately she wants freedom and that’s the only way she sees a positive outcome for herself. She wants her home kingdom to be taken care of but after being trapped for so long by her father she wants to be free from it all. Seriously, so. Much. Angst. Basically, if you’re not into characters who are prone to the dramatic, this might not be the book for you!

One other thing that I wanted to mention that I really enjoyed about this duology is the setting. I’m used to reading fantasy books that take place in deciduous or coniferous forest biomes with mountains, etc. There are usually oceans and they do often sail in other books but I liked that this duology had such a large focus on water. Lara grew up in the middle of a desert and Ithicana is a tropical grouping of islands. Ithicana has to deal with a storm season that make water travel incredibly dangerous. On top of the storms the waters are also infested with sharks. The islands also have deadly snakes so honestly just loving the danger in these books.

The Bridge Kingdom hit every single mark in my dream enemies-to-lovers book and I rated it five stars.

You can add The Bridge Kingdom on Goodreads here.

And if you’re interested in getting your own copy you can find it at the following links:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // Book Depository // Amazon

The Traitor Queen Review

Heads up but this section will contain spoilers relating to the first book! If you haven’t read the first book feel free to skip down to the end of this post for my sign off and some extra links. Otherwise feel free to sign off here and I’ll talk to you in my next post!

The Traitor Queen (The Bridge Kingdom, #2)
Image: Cover of The Traitor Queen by Danielle L. Jensen

Synopsis

A queen now in exile as a traitor, Lara has watched Ithicana be conquered by her own father, helpless to do anything to stop the destruction. But when she learns her husband, Aren, has been captured in battle, Lara knows there is only one reason her father is keeping him alive: as bait for his traitorous daughter.

And it is bait she fully intends to take.

Risking her life to the Tempest Seas, Lara returns to Ithicana with a plan not only to free its king, but for liberating the Bridge Kingdom from her father’s clutches using his own weapons: the sisters whose lives she spared. But not only is the palace inescapable, there are more players in the game than Lara ever realized, enemies and allies switching sides in the fight for crowns, kingdoms, and bridges. But her greatest adversary of all might be the very man she’s trying to free – the husband she betrayed.

With everything she loves in jeopardy, Lara must decide who – and what – she is fighting for: her kingdom, her husband, or herself.

Review

I hopped into reading The Traitor Queen immediately upon finishing The Bridge Kingdom. If anything, these are great books to read back to back. The story is fast paced enough that you almost won’t realize that you’ve read about 700 pages by the end of them. The ending of the first book had me needing to find out what happened next so I devoured this book in about half the time it took me to read The Bridge Kingdom.

This book had so much action in it and I really enjoyed seeing how Lara’s sisters fit into the plot. Honestly all of the characters that we were introduced to in this book were integral to the plot and the way everything came together had me in shock more than once.

Now if The Bridge Kingdom was angsty, The Traitor Queen is on another level entirely. I definitely didn’t hate it but holy cow it was taxing to read at times. I just kept waiting for things to fall into place and stop having more things become something disastrously dramatic. Aren became a bit frustrating in this book because he had trusted Lara so readily in the first book and yet became so wishy-washy. I could understand his thoughts from the perspective of hating Lara but I also felt like he was heavily influenced by the people around him and at times it made me question his ability as a king. Obviously it’s important for him to be able to trust his companions but at the same time, he pushed them to trust Lara in the first book and I found it surprising that he took such a firm stance against her despite the fact that she tried to explain to him what happened.

Now Lara was dealing with the consequences of her actions from the first book and I could understand her feelings most of the time but I wished she had been stronger in her beliefs and her dedication to Ithicana. If this had been the case, I think that this book potentially could have been shorter and by the time I reached the actual ending I found myself thinking how much less taxing it would have been if this book were about 50 pages shorter. It seemed like Lara kept ending up in bad situations because she was in that same wishy-washy mindset as Aren and instead of dedicating herself fully to Ithicana from the beginning she kept getting in her own head. And don’t get me wrong, I loved this book, but again I warn you that if you aren’t a fan of angst or drama, this might not be the duology for you!

In the end, I gave this book 4 stars because it was a genuinely fun read. I think the main reason I ended up knocking off a star was because of the length and the heightened dramatics towards the end of the story. This was such a fun duology though and I can’t wait for the next book in this series to come out!

You can add The Traitor Queen on Goodreads here.

And if you’re interested in picking up this book you can find it at the following:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // Book Depository // Amazon

If you’ve read the first (or both) book(s), what did you think of them? Also, if you have any fantasy romance recommendations feel free to leave a comment!

And with that, I’m signing off for the day. If you want to connect with me elsewhere you can find me:

On Twitter: nihilisticactus

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Books Reviews

Reread Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

If you were to ask me my favorite book, since the age of 13, my answer has steadfastly been Graceling by Kristin Cashore. My grandma gifted me this book (along with Twilight) for Christmas when I was in seventh grade. I’m not really sure which of those two books I was more obsessed with at the time but I devoured both of them within a matter of hours.

graceling.jpg

Graceling is a young adult fantasy story set in a world where if you are born or develop two different colored eyes you are considered a Graceling. Each Grace is different but it basically means that the person has some sort of extreme skill in regards to one thing. It could be fighting or mind reading, sewing or baking, or even something like being able to predict the weather.

It follows a Graceling named Katsa, a girl with one blue eye and one green eye and born with the Grace of killing. She is the niece of a king and has grown up as his thug, doing his bidding throughout the kingdoms. She then meets Prince Po and sets off on a deadly mission to uncover the secrets that could potentially destroy all seven kingdoms in their world.

I used to reread Graceling on a yearly basis. This was sort of my tradition with all of my favorite books. As I grew up though it got harder and harder to do this and I think was the first time I’ve read Graceling since high school. It was sort of bittersweet to dive back into this incredibly familiar story and I got so emotional as it unfolded over the pages. I know the plot like the back of my hand and I cheered on every triumph and got sad and angry at every obstacle. It felt like going home.

This story held so many firsts for me. The first time that I ever saw myself in a character, the first OTP I ever had, the first book that ever shocked me. It was life changing for me.

Katsa is a kick-ass female character that really stood out to me in a way that no once since Hermione Granger really had. She was hesitant about men, didn’t want kids, didn’t want to get married… She had a lifetime of trauma that led to her trying to be cold hearted and cruel because that’s all that she thought she could be. A killer. A girl Graced with the ability to kill anyone. It was almost heart warming to read about someone who felt like me in so many ways  and that still could have someone fall in love with her and care about her.

Now rereading this story I see so many parallels between Katsa and Celaena from the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas and I wonder if that’s another reason as to why I was so drawn into the ToG series when it originally was published. I think that if you are a fan of ToG that you should pick up Graceling as well!

After this reread I have decided to maintain my original rating of 5/5 stars. This book will be timeless to me and I think it will forever be considered my favorite. If you are looking for a unique fantasy with a really strong female lead I highly recommend picking up Graceling.

This following section contains spoilers:

This book is one that I will continue to read again and again. It’s such a unique concept and I still fall in love with everything about this book even now. However, now that I’m older there are things about this that I sort of wish I could change. Like I really wish that Katsa was asexual… Or demisexual. I just feel like there are so many reasons for her to be that way and sometimes I just consider her to be demisexual anyways. I absolutely love her romance with Po but it could have been just as amazing without the added sexual element.

I also have always considered Raffin to be gay or bisexual. It just made sense to me. He’s not really accepted by his father (granted this is because of his interest in chemistry and whatnot), the king, and he doesn’t really have an interest in getting married. He’s very close to Bann, his assistant but I never chalked that up to them being in a relationship (though I could be that crazy shipper if I wanted to). And I mean Katsa and Raffin had discussed they themselves getting married just because they’d each allow the other to keep on doing whatever they wanted to do. It would have been a marriage of convenience over a marriage of love and I think it would have been interesting just to see how Cashore could have written in a queer prince.

Other than that I feel like I was blind and still am blind to any issues this book may have and I was surprised when I read a note from the author in the back of the anniversary edition of the book that I bought to replace my lost original copy. Po has the Grace of being able to sense people and as the book unfolds his Grace strengthens to be able to sense just about every aspect of the world around him… So when he gets injured to the point of being blinded it never once occurred to me that his Grace being this “cure” for his disability could be considered offensive. But that’s what Cashore apologized for in her note. That at the time of writing she never realized how unfair it could be to write of someone who can be “magically cured” by this skill that he has. It was kind of shocking to me but it made a lot of sense and I really appreciated that she took the time to include that note in the new and future copies of the book.

I think that this is an important step for all authors to take when they realize that something that they had done in the past may be realized to be not “okay” anymore. It could have been so easy for Cashore to just let this go and ignore anyone who tells her that it might be considered offensive. I mean it’s just magic, right? Anything can happen in a fantasy world… But the fact that she admitted to being a bit uninclusive in her writing was really admirable to me.

Now I’ve got to go back and reread Fire and Bitterblue. I was always so unimpressed with Fire and I’ve only read it maybe three times and I’m not sure if I’ve ever reread Bitterblue so I’m very interested in seeing how my opinions on those may have changed over the years.

Now my question I pose for you is if you were a Graceling, what do you think your Grace would be? I feel like I would have ended up with something really pointless. A Grace for cooking would be kind of awesome though since I’m absolutely horrible at it. Or maybe the ability to speed read. Then maybe I’d get through my TBR pile in a bit more timely manner.

If you’re interested in picking up your own copy of Graceling, here’s a link.