(2019) Sarah Kozloff, Tor, £9.99 / Can$17.50 / US$12.99, trdpbk, 477pp, ISBN 978-1-250-16854-2
This is a coming of age fantasy saga published by Tor, who have taken the current obsession with the Netflix box set and put it into book form by releasing all four books in the series a month apart rather than making readers wait a year or so between instalments. It’s a bold move by Tor, as it is not unknown for a series to tank after one or two books if it doesn’t spike reader interest. That said, knowing that a series may not be finished drives some readers to wait until completion is guaranteed before they dive in, so maybe Tor are on to something with this.
A Queen in Hiding follows the story of Cressa, queen of a fictional region called Weirandale, and her daughter Cerulia. In Weirandale, queens each have a unique magical power which manifests in childhood. Cressa is able to wipe memories and manipulate behaviour with a touch. Queens also have blue hair, a distinctive feature which makes it difficult for them to hide amongst ordinary people. Despite her power, Cressa is forced from her throne by the scheming of various nobles in the palace and has to go into hiding in order to save herself and her daughter. At this stage, Cerulia is a young child, and it is believed that her power hasn’t yet manifested, which has raised questions amongst some of the more powerful members of court, because without power she cannot take the throne. However Cerulia does have her own power, albeit an unusual one, and can talk to animals. Due to the rare nature of her abilities they are dismissed as being the figment of a childish imagination.
When the palace is attacked and the focus of the raiders turns out to be Cressa’s royal apartments. Cerulia is warned by a pet and so is able to wake her mother and save the two of them. They then flee the palace, taking a boat and headaway from Weirandale by sea. Cressa’s husband (and Cerulia’s father) is a sailor and Cressa hopes to reunite with him during the journey, but her main priority is to protect Cerulia. She does so by placing her with a peasant family, wiping their memories, and giving them a special hair tonic that will turn Cerulia’s blue hair brown. Cerulia is left with her memories intact, and so knows exactly who she is, but cannot tell anyone. She struggles with the daily life of a peasant, being small and slight of build and unused to physical work. Throughout this time her abilities begin to grow and the variety of animals that she befriends steadily increases. Cressa meets up with her husband and their relationship is quickly resumed as if theyhave never been apart. However the nobles and their armies continue to hunt Cressa, and in a major battle, both she and Cerulia’s father are killed, leaving her an orphan, and so she becomes the queen in hiding of the title.
The series has great potential. The world-building is solid and well thought through and will please readers looking for a youthful entry point to high fantasy, and also ticking the boxes for those who like their fantasy fake medieval and their main characters high born. There’s little seχ or swearing, and the more violent scenes wouldn’t overwhelm a sensitive younger teen reader. I could see Cerulia’s potential and I would imagine that in later books, she will become an engaging and compelling character, with her ability to talk to animals and her upbringing which has straddled both a sheltered, upper class palace based existence and time amongst peasants with her hands in the dirt.
Much of this book is backstory, and I felt that most of it was unnecessary as Cerulia is the Queen in Hiding and so the story really is about her, but she gets very little page time compared to her mother. The story didn’t get going until perhaps 300 pages in, when Cressa’s inevitable death gave Cerulia the throne, even if she wasn’t in the palace to take it, and as a reader, this felt too late. The dismissal of Cerulia’s abilities early on the book didn’t sit well with me, as even Cressa – who knew better than anyone how important it was for her daughter to have a magical ability – breezily ignored Cerulia’s attempts to explain that she could talk to animals. Cressa’s relationship with Cerulia’s father also lacks tension, as the two of them are voluntarily living completely separate lives (in fact, it’s mentioned that Cerulia hasn’t seen him in years) but we’re meant to believe that they remain devoted to each other despite this. I wasn’t interested enough to read the other books in the series although this may have been different if it had been compressed into three volumes rather stretched out across four.
Readers who enjoyed Throne of Glass and the 'Alanna' books by Tamora Pierce may find something to enjoy here, but it probably won’t work for a Game of Thrones reader.
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