Goodreads: The Queen’s Rising
Source: Goodreads Giveaway ARC in exchange for an honest review
Published: Feb. 6, 2018
Brienna has grown up in Valenia, never knowing the name of her father, who hails from the neighboring land of Maevana. Still, she always feels split. But for now she has to focus on attempting to passion–proving that she has a talent for knowledge and being chosen by a patron. However, when no patron chooses her, she chooses as her patron a lord who wishes to overthrow the king of Maevana. She dreams of the day the rightful queen will rule over Maevana again, but, as she spins her webs of intrigue, she soon finds that she may have entangled herself too far.
I have already provided a review of the ARC edition of The Queen’s Rising. However, now it’s time to bring out all the spoilers and discuss in-depth all the feelings I had while reading this book. Though I expected to love it based on the premise, I quickly found that the story is poorly paced, the romance uncomfortable, and the plot twists…not necessarily so twisty!
I can usually tell when a book is poorly constructed when I have trouble summarizing it. In this case, I was already confused while reading the summary on the back cover, so I had some foreshadowing of what was to come. On the one hand, this is a boarding school story about a girl who must find a way to master a passion (talent) for knowledge in three years instead of the usual seven. And about the first third of the book focuses on her final week of classes as she tries to prepare to graduate and secure a patron. Then, wham! Suddenly, the book is not about Brienna’s passion at all! It’s now a court intrigue/rebellion book!
The patron she secures is not a passion, as is typical, but a man who wants to overthrow the ruler of the neighboring kingdom. And he wants Brienna not because she’s a passion or has knowledge or really understands the lineages and history of Maevana, but because she is randomly getting memories about the hiding spot of a magical artefact. Erm, why did we spend a third of the book wondering if Brienna has a real passion and if it needs to be inherent or if it can be gained through hard work…all for her to be chosen for patronage just because she got lucky and has memories triggered at odd moments? Also, isn’t it grand that all the memories are super important and all related exactly to what she wants to know?
Of course, at this point I’m wondering why everyone in the country of Valenia cares so much about what happens in Maevana. I’m pretty sure from watching the real world that the majority of people do not care what happens in other countries and are perfectly willing to overlook atrocities committed elsewhere. Explaining that Valenia helped put the current awful king on the throne of Maevana does not convince me that so many ordinary citizens of Valenia would put themselves on the line to see a queen rule Maevana. Nor am I convinced by Brienna’s constant musings about how she is “split in half” and that the Maevan blood calls to her or something. She’s spent her entire life living in Valenia and knows only Valenia, but she’s suddenly super invested in Maevana and willing to die to put a queen on throne because her blood “wants to bow to a queen.” Even if she does not know the queen. Okay…
Yes, it is is convenient that everyone Brienna happens to meet secretly turns out to be Maevan, too! Wow, it’s almost like no one Valenian actually lives in Valenia! Still, that does not explain the Dowager nor does it explain Merei. (Actually, I would really like someone to explain to me how Merei knows archery when she’s spent seven years in a fancy girls’ school learning music.) The book tries to shortcut all this, however, with some highfalutin’ language and incredibly fast relationships. It’s truly incredible to me that Brienna’s passion father kills to protect her one day after they’ve first met. And truly incredible that Brienna now has a “real” family to love and die for after one day–I guess her grandfather doesn’t mean anything to her?
And how can we even begin to explain why her birth father decides to start a rebellion to put her on the throne the very first time he meets her? Even though she’s working for his enemy? Apparently he thinks saying, “Hey, betray your friends and join me, your true father who never cared about your existence before now” is a really convincing argument. But I guess it works on Cartier, whose loyalty to his queen is so strong that he agrees to throw her to the wolves as soon as Brienna suggests she herself could be queen instead. Morals? What are morals? Cartier wouldn’t know. Why exactly is it that we’re supposed to like and admire him, again? Rebecca Ross seems to think it’s because offering to betray your country for your lover is super sexy, but I’m pretty sure the average woman would find a man of integrity far more attractive than Cartier.
What really bothers me, however, is the romance. I am very uncomfortable with seeing a relationship between a teacher and a student. Yes, it’s also weird that Brienna is 17 and Cartier is probably around 28 (assuming four years passed after he passioned and then he got a job at the school at the age of 21). That’s a large age gap for young people. Imagine someone out of college, nearing their thirties, dating…a high school junior. Why? They have nothing in common! And the power imbalance is a little creepy. Cartier has much more knowledge, experience, and maturity–and could use that to manipulate a teen who is experiencing her first romance. But, I digress. We might, after all, hand wave this and say it’s a pseudo-medieval/Renaissance world and age gaps might not be weird in their society. But I cannot stress enough how inappropriate it is for a teacher to fall in love with a student!
Yes, it’s true that Cartier wants until after Brienna passions (or graduates) to make any real moves, so they are no longer in a teacher-student relationship by the time most of the romance stuff starts. We can’t argue that she might feel pressured to do…stuff…because of the power difference resulting from their professional positions. However, Cartier’s preference for Brienna is marked enough during her time at school that another student notices it and complains. He uses his romantic interest in her to favor her at times. Even more uncomfortable is the fact that he sends her special adornment for her passioning and tells her how to style her hair, not because he’s her teacher and trying to help her make her best impression on future patrons, but because he gets pleasure out of seeing her dressed a certain way. Here he is using his power as a teacher to make her present herself physically in a way that he wants. That’s just icky.
And don’t get me started on his presumptuous choice for her passion cloak. He chooses a constellation that does not mean anything for Brienna at the time of her graduation. Instead, he chooses a constellation that completes his–a constellation that is about him and not about Brienna. Because, remember, there have only been about two days of seeming flirtation between the two of them at the time that Cartier plans to present this cloak. Was he going to use her graduation as the excuse to finally declare his love to his student? Was he waiting years for this moment? Now I’m uncomfortable again because it almost seems like he was waiting to pounce as soon as it was legal. And when did his interest in her start? When she first came to him at the age of 14 and he was 25? Even if we hand wave the age gap, Brienna is still a child for, well, as long as Cartier knows her at school.
And then we get to the plot “twists.” It is awkward to spend the majority of a book hiding Brienna’s parentage when it’s all revealed in a family tree before the story starts! Also awkward are other possible reveals. Luc=Luscas and Isolde=Yseult; their fake names are easily associated with the correct person on the family tree, for someone with a sharp eye. I truly hope that the final version moves the family trees to the end of the book (I read an ARC).
The Queen’s Rising is an enjoyable read if you can overlook how the poor pacing and the other flaws. I imagine most readers will since the book reflects closely what so many other YA fantasy books look like. Still, I am very disappointed that the execution did not live up to the premise.