The Deepest Blue by Sarah Beth Durst is a standalone novel in the Tales of Renthia series. I have not read the previous book in the Tales of Renthia, and had no problem following The Deepest Blue. Based on the ending, which is not a cliffhanger type ending, I would suspect that further novels, if any, would follow in the same fashion. It wonderfully intermingles politics, family dysfunction, battles of survival and betrayal.
The story begins in the world of Renthia, on an island nation. A wedding is taking place between Mayara and Kelo, who have loved each other their entire lives. During the wedding, the Queen of Belene is supposed to protect the island from spirits that resent people, believing they live on their land. They control nature with violence and revenge, using bloodthirsty ways to kill people. Few women can control these spirits and protect the lands and people of their country, thereby becoming queens. The Queen of Belene is one such person.
Unbeknownst and sadly for Mayara the Queen of Belene is not able to protect the island nor the wedding from these spirits. When they release their powers on the island Mayara is forced to reveal a secret she has kept her whole life: she can control these violent vengeful spirits that endanger all countries of Renthia.
Reminding me a bit of We Set the Dark on Fire, women with these abilities now have one of two choices: become an heir to the queens or to become one of the silent ones. Neither is a good choice. The Silent Ones give up their names and families, and as the title would indicate, their voices to be the Queens enforcers. Becoming an Heir means surviving the Island of Testing. And well let’s just say the odds of survival are well…
Mayara is taken to the Island of Testing where her sister died trying to prove herself worthy of being an heiress. However, the Silent Ones kidnap her and tell her Kelo is dead. She had promised him that should her secret be revealed, she would become a Silent One and live. With him now dead, she decides to go ahead and take the test to become an heiress.
Hurst’s world building is quite extraordinary, as it must. It would be extremely easy for this type of setting to become really silly really quick. However, Hurst makes it not just work, she makes it vivid, lush and violently beautiful. I wouldn’t say the setting becomes a character on to itself in the book, but it doesn’t take away from the plot or make it unbelievable, or childish/Disney-like, either. I think that could have been an easy hole to fall into. Hurst avoids that pitfall.
In the same vein, Mayara really jumps off the page. You can feel her emotions, get in her head and feel her come to life on every page. I would have like to feel that same level of depth with every character. There is much more than meets the eye going on behind the scenes. There are puppet masters controlling the strings, politics at play and that always comes with a lot of hard choices and negotiations. I didn’t feel the heft of those dealings as much as I would have liked. The strife between the Queen and the noblemen is a huge part of the story. I would like more of that and the part it plays behind the scenes.
The ending isn’t a cliffhanger. The book is paced well enough that it doesn’t feel rushed, making it satisfy and well thought out. Not just in the ending, but throughout the book there are a lot of strong female characters and heroines, which is always nice to read.