Book Review: A Tyranny of Queens by Foz Meadows

A Tyranny of Queens by Foz Meadows

“It’s all right,” said Ruby, squeezing Saffron’s hand.

This is the sequel to An Accident of Stars, which you definitely need to read before reading this one. You can read my (very)short review of that book here.

A Tyranny of Queens is breathtaking. It takes everything that was built and set up in An Accident of Stars, and runs away with it in unexpected directions. I could probably write a great deal of essays about the world that Foz Meadows has created, about what has been done with gender and sex and religion and race, how they relate to where we are now. About polyamorous marriages and matriarchy and family. About how we treat victims.

And the wonderful thing is that all of those things above are in the book without making one feel as though one is reading a book that wants you to think certain things. They just exist, in the world, and the plot roars along like a steam engine on the boil, veering sharply enough that I thought, several times, it had gone off the rails and there was no possible way that this new development could make sense and then it did! The cast is, as in An Accident of Stars, fantastic. Primarily women, and primarily not white women, and with a big mix of ages and origins and wellness – how often do we get main characters with chronic illnesses? Facial scarring? Partial paralysis? Neurodiversity? The answer is not often enough – it’s hard to find even one, and in this book we get all of those things in a fantasy setting, as well as most of the fantasy settings (this is a portal fantasy, so we get more than one world) being extremely queer-friendly.

It is, of course, not perfect. But it’s damn good, and having only finished it a few hours ago I am still emotionally entangled with it all, and more than a bit breathless from the way it ended. I realise I’ve barely mentioned the characters or the plot; in this instance it’s really hard to do without MAHOUSIVE spoilers… So, yanno, go read it 🙂

Rating: Read this book, phone all your friends and make them read it…

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Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted by Naomi Novik- cover

Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley.

Reading this book felt, to me, like going home. I suppose I have spent most of my life reading fairytales and fantasy, and it’s only in the last few years that I’ve branched out into sci-fi and even *gasp* fiction. Reading fantasy again, especially a fantasy so strongly rooted in folklore and fairytale, felt like settling into a well-loved armchair after a long day. It was wonderful.

That’s not to say that it wasn’t scary; Uprooted has that particular fairytale skill of snagging the edges of the unconscious and holding them ransom, so that I would not realise I was scared until I turned out the light and tried to sleep. It was also bloody and terrible in a way that only fairytales manage. Something about it put me in mind of Beauty and the Beast: there is a lot of rich imagery involving roses and towers, and a terrible beast/man who can, perhaps, be transformed. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Agnieszka (pronounced ag-NYESH-ka) lives in a village near the Wood, and has done her whole life. Their Dragon is in fact a man; the local lord, an immortal wizard who demands a girl every ten years to be his servant. And when the ten years are up, the girl is released and will, inevitably, leave the valley never to return. In this way, she is lost. Agnieszka does not expect to be chosen – her best friend Kasia is the obvious choice and everyone agrees. However, she is chosen, and everything changes.

Agnieszka is an enjoyable protagonist, stubborn and determined even when she is scared and barely knows what she is doing. She fights and fights and fights, in all sorts of ways, and sometimes she makes mistakes and sometimes her lack of forethought is infuriating, but I was always rooting for her. The heart of the story is Agnieszka, the Dragon and the Wood, and it takes us to all sorts of unexpected places. The Dragon is at war with the Wood, which is a terrible, semi-sentient place full of lurking life and malice. The Wood can, if you are not careful, get inside your head and change you forever. It might eat you. It might lock you in a tree. It might take you away and return your body to your village and let you loose on your loved ones. And it is always, always there. The villagers all know this, but without the Dragon they could not fight it.

One of the things that I really loved about this story was that Kasia does not fade into obscurity, in the way that so many best friends do in similar narratives. She remains important all the way through. The fairy/folktale influences are obvious, in the imagery, in the shape of the story and in its particular brand of magic. Baba Yaga even made an appearance, ribboning through the pages with a slightly altered name [Edit, 04/01/2017: I have been informed that it is not an altered name, it is the Polish spelling. Thank you awesome commenter!]. I loved the spells, which had to be spoken aloud in a particular language and which could be altered by playing with the words. I loved the warring kingdoms and the hints of stories within the story, and the way that it could trip me up just when I thought I knew where it was going.

In fact, the only down point that I can think of is [SPOILER ALERT]that I was a bit bored by the inevitable romance between Agnieszka and the Dragon. It felt superfluous, although actually as the story continued their relationship became more interesting, and by the end I was quite enjoying it. I think my dislike is likely because a) I get very bored of heterosexual romances, simply because they are everywhere and b) I have very little patience for the “terrible/difficult/evil man only needs the love of a good woman to change” cliché, and at the beginning their relationship fell into that category. However, it does dig itself out of there, so hooray!

Overall, I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fairytales; Uprooted reads like one, and has a quiet and enduring magic. Naomi Novik is extremely skilled with her imagery, and there are pictures that I still have floating about in my mind like persistent driftwood.