The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

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The Queens of Renthia bk 1. HarperCollins, 2016. ISBN 9780062662064
(Age: 14+) Recommended. Fantasy. Alex Award (2017). Daleina is very young when her village is attacked by spirits and everyone is killed except members of her family. Seeing them in deadly danger, Daleina is able to draw on her magical powers to stop them harming her family but can't do anything to help the rest of the villagers. This ordeal has remained with her and she is determined to fight the spirits of air, water, earth, fire, ice or wood that inhabit her country, Aratay. When she is 15 she goes to the Academy to train to become an heir to the Queen, the only person who is able to stand between the spirits and their destruction of humanity. Ven, an older man, is a champion warrior who has been banished by the Queen and who has spent his time fighting spirits on the outskirts of the kingdom. He chooses Daleina as the person to mentor and together they battle the evil that is threatening to take over the land.
This was a very exciting and engrossing read, which was difficult to put down. Not only did it have adventure and daring, but the world building was intensely interesting, with people living in the tree tops and making journey by flying from one tree to another on zip-lines. The spirits too were well drawn and Daleina's ability to find out their desires created some wonderful visions of flying through clouds and being sucked into the earth.
Durst takes a different tack in The Queen of Blood to the usual romance between the two main characters often found in books, instead Daleina and Ven are both engaged in defending their country, with one being youthful and the other older and experienced. Daleina is a quiet person who stubbornly wants to help her kingdom and works very hard at the Academy to gain the skills that she needs. She makes strong friendships with some of the other aspiring heirs. She is strong enough to undergo the arduous training that Ven insists upon when leaving the Academy, and clever enough to work out ways to overcome the spirits.
The quest and the character building draw the reader in with a fresh and original story and an unexpected and thrilling conclusion will leave the reader desperate for the next in the series, The reluctant Queen.
Pat Pledger