Book Review : The Queens of Innis Lear

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review : The Queens of Innis LearThe Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton
Published by Tor on March 27th 2018
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Girls & Women, Young Adult
Pages: 576
Buy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Bookshop.org
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two-half-stars
Source: NetGalley

A kingdom at risk, a crown divided, a family drenched in blood.

The erratic decisions of a prophecy-obsessed king have drained Innis Lear of its wild magic, leaving behind a trail of barren crops and despondent subjects. Enemy nations circle the once-bountiful isle, sensing its growing vulnerability, hungry to control the ideal port for all trade routes.

The king's three daughters—battle-hungry Gaela, master manipulator Reagan, and restrained, starblessed Elia—know the realm's only chance of resurrection is to crown a new sovereign, proving a strong hand can resurrect magic and defend itself. But their father will not choose an heir until the longest night of the year, when prophecies align and a poison ritual can be enacted.

Refusing to leave their future in the hands of blind faith, the daughters of Innis Lear prepare for war—but regardless of who wins the crown, the shores of Innis will weep the blood of a house divided.

This review contains massive spoilers for the book. Please read at your own discretion.

 

To be honest, this book is plain “meh” for me. From the description of the novel, which heralded The Queens of Innis Lear as the next Game of Thrones, I was expecting a mature fantasy novel with complex political problems and fascinating lore. Instead, I felt like I was reading a young adult fantasy novel that stuck to all the popular tropes of the genre—love triangles, helpless main female character who needs everyone to do everything for her, evil sisters, star-crossed lovers, princess in exile, etc.. Though the book does have potential, at least with its magic systems, this book reads merely like a setup for the next book in the series, which I would really be fine with or without reading.

 

Though the book attempts to weave complicated networks of people with strikingly different motivations, I never felt any connection to them or any urgency to discover what would happen next to them. The author desperately tries to make her main characters all complex and different, and does in fact describe her heroines as dark and curly-haired instead of the typical white and blonde female protagonists, but in spite of this, most of their development feels more like a stereotype than real character development. I was also let down that a book about three sisters vying for the role of Queen lacked feminine empowerment that went deeper than the surface.

 

The author does not seem to realize that slapping one sister, Princess Gaela, in chainmail and leading an army does not equal meaningful feminism. Instead, it feels like more of the familiar trope of the female warrior. The book does put a spin on it and make it better by revealing that Gaela undergoes some kind of painful, herbal, magical procedure to make her unable to bear children and more of a man. While this helps the intricacy of the stories, it is undermined by the fact that the other sisters are also seemingly plucked from the same stereotype list that renders Gaela a ferocious, angry, warrior, who is determined to be seen as powerful as any man. Regan is cunning, beautiful, and wise and Elia as pure, pretty, and innocent as any Disney fairytale.I was also befuddled that in a feminist novel, both Princesses Gaela and Regan, simply marry each other’s enemies to gain power—despite claiming that they are in actuality each other’s true consorts—pitting their husbands, territories, and people against each other. They also play favorites against their youngest sister, Elia, instead of empowering her and guiding her, even threatening to kill her if she returns to the Innis Lear before their coronations. However, I must say that I agree with Gaela and Regan in this case; I could never quite manage to Elia, though I am obviously supposed to judging from the author’s countless gushing descriptions of how stunning and precious she is.

 

Princess Elia is too helpless, innocent, devoted, beautiful, pure, and all around perfect for my taste. I cannot help but roll my eyes at her inability to even attempt to fight for the throne by answering her mentally diminished father’s question about whether or not she loved him the best. Yes, I understand that the question is unjust and I know that Elia’s staying quiet is purposeful in order to set her apart from her lying sisters, who do not even love their father. Nevertheless, I feel like if Elia truly cared about her father and their kingdom, she should have tried to save them from being ripped apart by the control of her two sisters, both named heirs in an upset that will clearly lead to war. The resulting chaos that ensues over her actions, or rather the complete lack thereof, feels completely preposterous and contrived to me.

 

As such, I could not really feel any sympathy for Elia reaping what she sows, and she already has more than enough pity for herself for the both of us. Every issue in her life is a direct result of her own poor choices. Her sisters do not love her, as she chose her father over them after her mother’s death—but she never stops whining about not fitting in with them. When her father strips her of her title, she immediately stops referring to herself as a Princess and consequently gives up on the biggest comfort of her life, Star Charting. I also have the dreaded feeling that there are only more poor decisions in her future; I believe she will attempt to rectify her current situation and exile by marrying King Morimaros, who will want to conquer her island and annex it to his kingdom. Can’t any of these women do anything without marrying a man or undermining each other? I have never read King Lear, so I cannot speak for whether this book is more or less empowering, but I was definitely disappointed with it.

 

From a writing standpoint, I think it would be more interesting if Gaela and Regan just made Elia the third queen of Innis Lear after they are sworn in as queens. Perhaps they could instill a voting system among them and used Elia as puppet, manipulating her for her third vote. Elia could have used her alliances with King Morimaros, the King’s fool, and Ban to gain power, to overthrow her corrupt sisters, and to take the throne. And if after claiming the throne, she is able to somehow mend things with one or two of her sisters, it’d be even better. To me, that type of storyline is more remarkable than the typical princess in exile fighting against her evil sisters story. I realize that this is probably not in line with a retelling of King Lear, but I believe it makes for a more exciting fantasy novel.

 

Though I am annoyed by the portrayals in what is supposed to be a feminist novel, I did enjoy other parts of the book. The standout for me is the magic systems. I thought it very original that the author included trees and wellsprings in the magic of the world, particularly on the island of Innis Lear, where the magic is rapidly dying out due to King Lear’s devotion to Star Charting and the restriction of any other religious practices. Combined with the ritualistic magic and the whispering of trees, the setting of the island of Innis Lear, filled with marshes, wind, and giant tree roots, feels like a sentient character itself.

 

I also enjoy Ban’s, Elia’s childhood friend and love interest, continued connection to the earth of Innis Lear and his determination to bring back the strength to these trees and the island itself, while putting Elia back on the throne somewhere along the way. I like Ban’s devotion to the old ways—the language of trees, blood magic, etc.—and how it is in stark contrast to Elia, who followed her father’s example and became a Star Charter. I cannot help but wonder what would have happened if Elia, who claims she never even wanted the throne, had simply taken Ban up on his offer and run away with him, instead of staying with a foreign leader who wants to marry her mainly for the foothold her former title will grant him in conquering Innis Lear and annexing it to his kingdom. I think Ban, as a bastard son who left home in order to make a name for himself in another kingdom—and made himself a legend in the process—is much more sympathetic and interesting than his female counterparts were and would look forward to reading more about him over the other characters.

 

Ultimately, The Queens of Innis Lear is really just not for me, despite the fact that I like both literature and fantasy. I found it meandering and hard to get through at some points and not unique enough to keep me glued to the pages. In addition, it just felt like a build-up novel or practice run for the next in the series, rather than its own standalone novel. I was not surprised when the book ended with a cliffhanger ending, as it was all really just staging for the next book. If you are a big fan of young adult fantasy, you might very well love this book, but if you are looking for more mature and complex writing, this might not be the one for you either.

 

two-half-stars
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Book Review - The Queens of Innis Lear - Blogging with Dragons

Posted February 14, 2018 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Young Adult

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2 responses to “Book Review : The Queens of Innis Lear

  1. [* Shield plugin marked this comment as “trash”. Reason: Failed GASP Bot Filter Test (checkbox) *]
    Oof I had high hopes for this one. Great review, Kate!

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