Review: A Queen in Hiding
Do you ever find yourself conflicted between the desire to read new releases and the frustration of waiting a year or so before the next book comes out? Reading fiction soon after release keeps you up to date with what in happening in the genre, puts you in online conversations about what others are reading and keeps you current with award nominations. But waiting for each instalment could mean, in a series of four books, a four year wait till you find out what happens in the end. But not in this case. Tor have taken the interesting approach of publishing four books in four month for the start of 2020 and if you haven’t read them, now is a great time to bury yourself in this epic fantasy.
A Queen in Hiding is Book One of the Nine Realms quartet by Sarah Kozloff. The books starts with Queen Cressa on the throne and the story centres around her daughter Princess Cerúlia. Of course the title of the novel does not bode well for this domestic situation continuing, so I don’t think it is a spoiler to say, particularly if you read the book blurb, that the princess and her family have a downward turn to their fortune. Cerúlia finds herself hiding in the countryside with a new family rather than being the centre of the court. I find it interesting, given aforementioned indications of the intended direction, how much of the book is dedicated to Queen Cressa’s rule and the life of the young princess.
Magic is not a common feature for characters, but every ruler of Weirindale is given a Talent by their protecting deity which will help them rule in some way. The Talents usually appear as a young child and bring great celebration in the land, even though he details of this are not necessarily disclosed to the common people. Cerúlia has not demonstrated her Talent and so her fitness to rule after her mother is a subject of gossip and rumour. The pressure on a child to live up to parental standards, even if they are impossible might be one that readers identify with, even if they if they left childhood behind some time ago.
Each Realm has a deity who endorses the leader of their realm in some way, but also has representatives or favourites within that land, some in a visible priest-like role and some more hidden. This type of religion is quite interesting, it is not generally a matter of faith, everyone accepts and has seen proof that these deities or spirits exist, but some people consider them more of an inconvenience rather than an aid, particularly if you plan to overthrow the endorsed leader.
One of the other devices used is that each of the noble houses has been gifted with a different hair colour. Over time and generations these have mixed and been watered down, so few have a “pure” hair colour rather than the generic brown. Attitudes vary as to how important or significant these are thought to be. It reinforces the idea of the fantasy class hierarchy with a hereditary monarchy and noble houses which, at least in this novel, is not directly challenged, although common people are not shown in a negative light. There is a direct comparison to the privileged life Cerúlia has when very young to the life as a commoner later in life, but these social consequences are seen though the less judgemental eyes of a child and no authorial criticism is detected.
It’s worth noting that Queen Cressa and princess Cerúlia are very much the protagonist of this story, they are not overshadowed by kings or other in their own narrative, although it is perhaps unsurprising that the primary antagonist is male. This is not a coincidence, one of the stated motivations for Kozloff starting these novels, according to an interview linked on her website, is that she noticed that The Lord of the Rings, film and book, would fail the Bechdel test. Needless to say the world of fantasy literature has moved on somewhat since The Lord of the Rings was written, but it’s not an invalid concern.
The book moves at a good pace, the main characters are engaging and the general setting is almost familiar, with unique elements in the deities and their relationships with the people of their nations. If you enjoy Kristen Britain’s Green Rider series then it is likely you will love this, as the feel and archetypes are similar. Having said that Britain’s protagonists tend to be adults and so perhaps give a more nuanced framework for the readers‘ understanding of the fantasy setting. I hope as the princess grows up in the subsequent novels that some more weighty issues of the realm inequalities can be addressed in the narrative as Cerúlia seeks to be recognised as an adult ruler.