The Hedgewitch Queen, by Lilith Saintcrow, is set in a world that felt a bit like a magical three musketeers, but told from the point of view of an idealistic young royal who has to flee with her musketeers (or, in this case, the Queen's Guards) after a palace coup. The guards, of course, are led by a loyal, hot, mysterious captain of the guards.
Towards the beginning of the book, I thought I knew where it was going. Saintcrow uses some pretty familiar cliches, such as a magical jewel that proclaims the rightful ruler, hedgewitchcraft being less prestigious than court sorcery, etc. However, she ended up surprising me a bit towards the end. She manages to put in enough moral complexity that I'm still not sure how certain things will - or should - be resolved in the next book. Kudos if she manages to wrap things up with an HEA without resorting to a deus ex machina.
The heroine, Vianne, is a bit of a martyr, especially at the beginning, but also she's quirky and clever and resourceful and quietly brave. She starts out pretty sheltered, but she has her eyes opened repeatedly through the course of the story. She comes into her own, especially as a leader, which is always refreshing to read with heroines. I like her for the most part.
I also liked the slow-burn romance that forms a core of the story.
But there there were a couple points in the story where I feel the author had characters do things out of character for what I can only assume to be convenience-to-the-plot reasons.
The first was that she was supposed to have grown up in court and have been sufficiently adept at politics that part of her role was to catch potential scandals and take care of them quietly before they became problems. So, presumably she's very good at gossip and understanding people, right? But we're supposed to believe that *Spoiler - highlight to read the Captain of the Guards has been in love with her for years and everyone else at court knows it, but she never notices? *End of Spoiler*
Also, by the middle of the book, *Spoiler - highlight to read* she's already almost died a couple times, her troop of loyal and professional guards know the woods are dangerous, and they know she's their divinely chosen ruler as well as the last legitimate candidate for the crown. And the captain of the guards is supposed to be strategically gifted as well as overprotective of her sine he's in love with her. So then when they find out that one of the evil villains is in the woods with a large contingent of soldiers and that he's looking to abduct her, what do they do? They leave her with only one guard and then go hours or days away so that they can try to track down where the villain may be. AND as soon as the encampment is attacked, her only guard thinks the best thing he can do get her to hide in place and then rush off to look for his fellow guards in hopes of tracking them down? *End of Spoiler* I don't buy it. That's definitely a case of the author wanting the plot to work out a certain way and shoving the characters toward it.
Gah. These believability issues lessen an otherwise really enjoyable read for me. Anyway, I'm still looking forward to the the followup book "The Bandit King" (due out February 1, 2012).