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Book Review: Tear Down the Throne by Jennifer Estep

Tear Down the Throne
Jennifer Estep
Trade Paperback / eBook / Digital Audio
ISBN: 9780063023093
Harper Voyager, May 2022, 439 pages

Salutations, readers, and welcome to another book review! This month we’ll be diving into Tear Down the Throne by Jennifer Estep, a romance-infused fantasy adventure filled with scheming, spellcasting, and swordfighting, and also the sequel to one of last year’s reviews, Capture the Crown.

Tear Down the Throne returns us to the feuding kingdoms of Andvari and Morta, now at the brink of war following the events of the first book, and once again takes place through the eyes of Andvari’s crown princess—Gemma “Glitzma” Ripley, mind magier and part-time spy in service to her subjects. Returning alongside her is friend/rival spy Reiko Yamato, as well as Gemma’s complicated love/hate relationship with Prince Leonidas Morricone—second son of the Mortan royal family and Gemma’s childhood enemy—in addition to a host of other familiar faces.

Since Tear Down the Throne is a sequel, I would highly recommend reading Capture the Crown first, but Estep does an excellent job summarizing the events of the first book right off the bat so it’s not strictly necessary if you can’t find a copy and want to dive right into this one. Those who have read the first one will recognize the continuation of the Andvari/Mortan hostilities embodied by Gemma and Leonidas’ relationship, but Tear Down the Throne is also about expanding and exploring that relationship, not just maintaining the status quo.

One thing I enjoyed about Estep’s first book that continues in this one is that she’s not afraid to let her characters be messy and make mistakes, for all that they’re presented as familiar fantasy tropes. Gemma’s trials throughout the story are just as much the products of her own mind and traumas as they are outside forces, and her constant battle to keep herself from succumbing to old wounds will be familiar to anyone who’s had to move on from a difficult past.

However, this doesn’t mean that Gemma is a princess looking for someone to save her (though she’ll accept it occasionally if the situation gets too dicey). Another theme of Estep’s that I really liked is that all of the characters in Tear Down the Throne, particularly the women, are strong in a variety of ways, and frequently center the plot around their interactions while the various princes and guards orbit them. In a literary world where far too often princesses are something to be found in another castle, it’s refreshing to see ones with agency and impact that feel like real people. We also get a closer look into the motivations behind the instigator of much of Gemma’s woes (Queen Maeven of Morta), and Estep does a wonderful job of fleshing her out such that while you may or may not feel sympathy for her, you begin to really understand why she acts the way she does.

In addition, Tear Down the Throne does a fine job of presenting substantially high stakes for the characters and kingdoms involved without getting bogged down in too much convoluted intrigue. There are twists and turns, to be sure, and Estep does excellent work pacing them out appropriately, but all are in service to the characters instead of the other way around and I never felt like I was having trouble following any character’s motivation. My only real complaint would be that Captain Badguy McPlotarmor (if you’ve read the first one you know who I’m talking about) continues his dastardly mustache twirling ways and somehow gets away, again, but even he shows some unexpected growth that made me the slightest bit less bloodthirsty for his deserved comeuppance that I’m sure will happen in book three.

Overall, Tear Down the Throne is a fun romp of a book that isn’t afraid to lean into the trappings of classic fantasy royalty and romance, while at the same time also willing to stretch itself beyond the reader’s expectations to explore nuanced introspection on trauma, time, and healing. If you’re looking for something to wile away the hours on a vacation trip or outside as the weather warms, but still want to engage your brain, this might be just the book you’re looking for, and I’m excited to see how Estep finishes out the story.

Read if: you enjoy alliterative names; you like complications in your himbos; you’ve always wanted to ride a gargoyle.

Chris Kluwe

Chris Kluwe

Chris Kluwe grew up in Southern California among a colony of wild chinchillas and didn’t learn how to communicate outside of barking and howling until he was fourteen years old. He has played football in the NFL, once wrestled a bear for a pot of gold, and lies occasionally. He is also the eternal disappointment of his mother, who just can’t understand why he hasn’t cured cancer yet. Do you know why these bio things are in third person? I have no idea. Please tell me if you figure it out.