The Blacksmith Queen by G.A. Aiken
When a prophesy brings war to the Land of the Black Hills, Keeley Smythe must join forces with a clan of mountain warriors who are really centaurs in a thrilling new fantasy romance series from New York Times bestselling author G.A. Aiken.
The Old King Is Dead
With the demise of the Old King, there’s a prophesy that a queen will ascend to the throne of the Black Hills. Bad news for the king’s sons, who are prepared to defend their birthright against all comers. But for blacksmith Keeley Smythe, war is great for business. Until it looks like the chosen queen will be Beatrix, her younger sister. Now it’s all Keeley can do to protect her family from the enraged royals.
Luckily, Keeley doesn’t have to fight alone. Because thundering to her aid comes a clan of kilt-wearing mountain warriors called the Amichai. Not the most socially adept group, but soldiers have never bothered Keeley, and rough, gruff Caid, actually seems to respect her. A good thing because the fierce warrior will be by her side for a much longer ride than any prophesy ever envisioned …
Trigger Warning: Graphic violence ( war/battle scenes). Abuse (not explicitly described).
The Old King is dead. The Witches of Amhuinn made a prophesy of a queen ruling the land. The king’s consort and her son plot and scheme for the throne. A farmer’s daughter fucks with everyone’s (men’s) expectations.
This book asks what it means to be family and whether bloods ties create love and family connections. It starts with brothers spilling their blood on the ground of their father’s palace. What will people do if it means they could be the most powerful person in the kingdom? Would they kill their sibling, their son, their mother? Aiken tells us that love creates a family, not blood.
For me, it’s love that makes a family. You can choose who you want to be a part of your family. I don’t believe blood means you should love each other. LGBT kids are thrown out of their homes because their parents are anti-queer. Some kids grow up with parents that ignore, betray, and abuse them. Family members betray each other for power, for money, for greed. Blood is in our bodies. It is not a magic recipe for love. That is what G.A. Aiken tells us in this fucktastic hilarity of a book.
So let me tell you about this sweet ass book.
- Women with big muscles? Those Amazonian gods
- Complex female relationships? Gorgeous feminist goals
- Men constantly describing their cock when looking at the heroine? Not today misogynists.
- A healthy romance between a centaur and a blacksmith queen? Swoon
- Slow burn? Y E S
- Dragons? Maybe….
- Blood, blood, and more blood? All over the place
One of the soldiers laughed. “Look what we have here, lads! A big-armed slut looking for—” That hammer was up and swinging before the soldier could finish his statement, sending him flying into another nearby tree. Bones cracked and blood shot out of the soldier’s mouth. (9)
God, that feels so good to read. Misogynists get their penance in this book. It is the best catharsis I’ve had since watching Captain Marvel. This book is for all the ladies angry at white men writing women in Game of Thrones.
This is the romantic feminist Game of Thrones catharsis you need in your life. So many characters in this book remind me of the women in GOT. Some female characters remind me of both Queen Margaery and Dany. I am not a Dany stan. Very early on it became clear to me that Dany’s story did not emulate feminism but colonialist beliefs. She manipulated brown and black people into thinking themselves free, when truly…their freedom never existed. Their enslavement is handed from one slaver to another. Only this time a woman held the whip, which she tactfully threw away so they would follow her. Like every slaver in the Antebellum South, she envisioned her relationships with black people as friendly. Even towards the end, when she took King’s Landing, she commanded black and brown people to continue to gain power for her. There is no feminism there. Dany is manipulative and a tactician. She’s brilliant…but will do whatever it takes to gain power and revenge. Even at the expense of those that have already suffered so much.
She is determined… to rule this world. And she will not let anyone get in her way. Even if she fails, many will die. Many will die anyway, but you could help minimize the number. At the very least, give all those worthless humans something to hope for. (166)
Just. Like. Daenerys. Fucking. Targaryen.
I’m interested in Dany’s character as a villain. I liked that the idea of the hero is twisted and manipulated. The hero is not who you think it’s going to be. That’s what is so interesting about her character. She’s not what you think she is. What I disliked was Dany’s ending. She deserved a better final blowout. So did Cersei, frankly.
And this book gives Dany new life. It gives all the female villains from GOT new life. And that is really satisfying. Female villains being okay with doing terrible things and being super casual about enslavement makes them villains. That is obvious. G.A. Aiken makes female villains more obvious than the white men uplifting white women who colonize brown and black people. She doesn’t make female villains into this particular and fascinating thing. It’s just like ‘yes these women are monsters. Next question?’
The women in this book are given complex personalities. Their relationships are not perfect. Sisters love each other and lift each other up. They’re also angry at each other just as much as they love each other. They are selfish, greedy, ambitious, vengeful, angry, kind, wonderful, beautiful, funny, horrible, murderous, and absolute queens.
The women in her family. They were amazing. And insane. Because you needed to be both if you wanted to survive this world the way they did. Making their own choices and rules and ignoring all the men who tried to tell them no. (32)
One of the things I’d like to talk about is how swear words become integral to female relationships and power in this book. I’m okay with how cunt is used in this book. If it were used to slut shame, I’d be angry. These gendered words used to demean women are used from the perspective of a woman showing us the complexity of power positions women have with each other in this book. Thus, I’m okay with it. Even in anger, women don’t use it as a literal meaning but to express their anger at each other. If slut, whore, or cunt is used to describe what they think about them sleeping with men then it would have been a problem. But it’s not. Cunt in this book has a different meaning when it’s written from the perspective of women. It works and functions differently than it did in Game of Thrones.
Do you want your Brienne of Tarth romance? Then this is the romance FOR YOU.
Her name is Keeley and I love her. She’s a nerdy blacksmith with gods-blessed muscles. The hero, Caid, is really into those gorgeous muscles. She is absolute GORGEness.
Sometimes I think about the bodybuilders/MMA fighters in Wonder Woman. All those dreamy arms and thighs. Real life amazon princesses.
What I loved about that film is all the many different body types. G.A. Aiken is another romance author giving me more diversity in body types, like Sarah Maclean’s Brazen and the Beast. I kept picturing the beauty of women like Brooke Ence, an actress in Wonder Woman.
Gods, those arms.
Politics are not brushed under the carpet. Political issues make it clear who is the hero and who is the villain:
“She hates slavery and slavers and strongly believes they should be wiped out. She feels torturers should be tortured. And that the royals are as useless as your gods.” (143)
I am here to watch slavers killed. Keeley 2020.
The slow burn in this romance is not written like you’d expect. They don’t hate each other. The hero doesn’t try to possess her or make her feel insecure. Keeley and Caid become friends, which the hero is reluctant to admit. He’s one of those grumpy heroes I love so much. What’s different about this grumpy hero? He doesn’t treat the heroine like shit. He’s NICE to her. And he’s kind. And he’s careful not to control her or to tell her what to do with her life. He’s amazing. Oh and he wears a leather kilt. If that helps.
The one problem with the romance is it doesn’t feel very balanced. For most of the book it’s this beautifully done slow romance. But then we get to the climax of their relationship and it felt off. There’s something missing. Perhaps it could be that there’s not enough realizations of feelings towards the end for me to feel satisfied. It needs a bit more time towards the end. The climax of the romance had an abrupt ending, if you ask me.
I also had a problem with how Keran’s drinking problem is supposed to be a humorous aspect in the book. There’s a difference between making fun of getting drunk one time and full on alcoholism. Keran (Keeley’s cousin) is an alcoholic. She’s passing out and sleeping all the time. She throws up every morning, sometimes more than once. Her memory is not the best. That’s not funny. I have alcoholics in my family who struggle with drinking because they had bad childhoods. It’s hard to watch. And it’s not real fun for me to read alcoholism made into something light and funny.
I really don’t want people to be put off by these criticisms. This is an amazing fun romp of a book. It is SO worth a read. I’m just a picky bitch and I want to see this series be more amazing than it already is.
In any other genre, this book wouldn’t work. Because this is romance the modern colloquialisms and humor work. I see this in the style of Tessa Dare, who uses language and modern feminist ethics to tell a different type of story to the reader. G. A. Aiken does something similar with fantasy. She uses the great depth of storytelling fantasy is so famous for but brings it into the romance genre. This book is not like adult fantasy or YA fantasy, both of which require different criticism. If this had been published in genre fantasy, we’d be having a different conversation.
Do yourself a favor and get your feminist buff lady romance on.