ARC Review: The Hemlock Queen by Hannah Whitten

Today’s review is about THE HEMLOCK QUEEN by Hannah Whitten. It’s the second book in The Nightshade Crown trilogy. I really enjoyed this darker continuation of the series. Moreover, it expands on the origin story of the gods and a goal generations in the making.

Author: Hannah Whitten
Series: The Nightshade Crown, #2
Age Category: Adult
Publisher: Orbit
Publish Date: April 9, 2024
Print Length: 480

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Official Synopsis

In the second installment of New York Times bestselling author Hannah Whitten’s lush romantic epic fantasy series, the glittering and dangerous world of the Sainted King’s royal court is upended when Prince Bastian seizes control and a mysterious dark force begins to take over.

The corrupt king August is dead. Prince Bastian has seized the throne and raised Lore–a necromancer and former smuggler–to his right-hand side. Together they plan to cut out the rot from the heart of the royal court and help the people of Dellaire. But not everyone is happy with the changes. The nobles are sowing dissent, the Kirythean Empire is beating down their door, and Lore’s old allies are pulling away. Even Prince Bastian has changed. No longer the hopeful, rakish, charismatic man Lore knows and loves, instead he’s become reckless, domineering, and cold.

And something has been whispering in her ear. A voice, dark and haunting, that’s telling her there’s more to the story than she knows and more to her power than she can even imagine. A truth buried deep that could change everything.

With Bastian’s coronation fast approaching and enemies whispering on all sides, Lore must figure out how to protect herself, her prince, and her country before they all come crumbling down and whatever dark power has been creeping through the catacombs is unleashed.

My Review

I received a free advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.

In THE HEMLOCK QUEEN, the second installment of The Nightshade Crown trilogy, Bastian now reigns as the Sainted King. He begins to give back to the people and remove the dissenters from court. Soon after, Lore notices him changing. He makes important decisions without consulting his inner circle, becomes distant and, at times, cold. But Lore is also distracted by the voice she keeps hearing in her head. As Bastian becomes more reckless, Lore subsequently tries to keep him grounded and slowly starts unraveling a plot millennia in the making.

Hannah Whitten jumps nearly right back where THE FOXGLOVE KING ends. Consequently, THE HEMLOCK QUEEN begins a couple of weeks after August’s death. Those involved in the plot to kill Lore remain banished to their own courtly homes. Bastian is already spreading some of the wealth and rebuilding infrastructure. And Gabe is the new Priest Exalted. Since the first book sets up how the magic works, there’s less of that explanation here. However, Lore and Bastian do use their powers in new ways and it’s just as interesting to see how that works.

THE HEMLOCK QUEEN focuses more on the changes happening to Bastian and Lore and why. The reason for these changes will probably come as no surprise given the clues Whitten leaves. Inevitably, the reader learns more about the history of the gods, which I found interesting. This allows for the reader to see how time skews the truth and turns it into history, legend, and religion. However, I think THE FOXGLOVE KING more strongly depicts the various themes associated with religion. THE HEMLOCK QUEEN continues to run with it, but doesn’t concentrate as much on those themes.

I enjoyed the writing just as much in this book as the first one. I especially loved the quotes at the beginning of each chapter pulled from various Auverrani scripts. However, there were a few times where I felt some stylistic sentence fragments broke up the flow. Whitten doesn’t employ this technique often, but it’s something I tend to notice.

The story moves along at a decent clip. Whitten doesn’t rush the new character developments or the discovery of the god lore. As a result, I’m sure some might wish for a slightly faster pace, but I thought it was just right. Additionally, the love triangle remains present. I personally don’t mind this trope and I think Whitten executes it well. The longing is clearly present, but it doesn’t become a distracting annoyance amongst the rest of the story. There is one plot reveal I didn’t expect; I love a good surprise. Finally, it ends in a cliffhanger, but given this is a trilogy, one can more or less expect that.

Overall, THE HEMLOCK QUEEN is a satisfactorily sinister second installment of The Nightshade Crown trilogy. The feeling of futility and helplessness permeates the plot as the characters try to stay one step ahead without knowing the rules of the game.

Rating: 4
Content warnings: gore, blood, death, murder, sexual content
Reading format: ARC paperback

8 thoughts on “ARC Review: The Hemlock Queen by Hannah Whitten

  1. I’m not reading this series but I’m glad the second book was so good. I didn’t click with her last series so I was a little hesitant to try this.

    1. I liked her last series, though admittedly I still need to read the second and final book. I wish I could remember the details more, but I think I like her new series a little better.

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