Friday, January 13, 2017
Review: The Cursed Queen by Sarah Fine
Title: The Cursed Queen (The Imposter Queen, #2)
Author: Sarah Fine
Rating: 3 Stars
I have to echo other readers on this one--The Cursed Queen is a disappointing sequel to The Imposter Queen. Fine set up a rich, intricate fantasy world with the latter that only continues in its depth with this novel. With The Imposter Queen we followed Elli, her succession to becoming the Valtia and the subsequent chaos that ensued when her magic didn't manifest as it was supposed to. Thus, going into The Cursed Queen, the reader already knows what's happening to Ansa as the Valtia's power flows into her. The strength of this story lies in the fact that Ansa, at a young age, was taken captive to the Krigere tribe where she was raised to be a warrior.
Ansa has never given a second thought to her true heritage, completely embracing the Krigere ways of slaughter and bloodshed. Especially compared to Elli, Ansa is a violent and impulsive protagonist, prone to enormous waves of emotion that threaten the delicate control she has over her abilities. Her Krigere upbringing has taught her that she is a witch, now, and Ansa despises herself and her powers. At the same time, however, the politics of her tribe throw her life into further turmoil. Thyra, the new chieftain of their tribe following her father's sudden death, has always been a pacifist. Though she is a deadly warrior in her own right, she believes that the Krigere way--plundering, murdering, and stealing another society's food and people--isn't right. Now that she's chieftain, Thyra wants to change it all.
But it isn't as easy as she thinks. Ansa is loyal to Thyra, and loves her deeply, but as the two girls fight their own battles--Ansa with her magic, Thyra as she tries to gain the loyalty of her tribe and find a peaceful way for them to continue onwards without coming to war--their friendship to one another is tested. Ansa and Thyra's relationship is at the core of this novel and while I loved that this homosexual romance was never ostracized or discouraged, I didn't come to feel for it the way I did Elli's romance in The Imposter Queen. Ansa and Thyra have not been strictly truthful with one another and they hold each other in an impossible regard, believing that the other is perfect. I enjoyed watching their relationship grow and change as they began to recognize that they were different people than they originally thought each other to be. However, their romance was a hard sell for me because Ansa loves Thyra, but she doesn't love Thyra's new ways of thinking. And, similarly, Thyra loves Ansa but she doesn't love Ansa's one-track mind and blinders when it comes to the flaws of the Krigere people.
In addition to the romance, Ansa as a heroine was difficult to sympathize with. I dislike the phrase "unlikable heroine", mainly because it implies that women are constantly meant to be likable and understandable. I like these "unlikable" heroines because they are the women who don't fit the mold and challenge our traditional values of womanhood. Ansa, by and large, does all this. She's violent, she's impulsive, and she's stubborn and unwilling to change her mind, even if it's Thyra begging her to reconsider how the Krigere people live. It isn't easy to read a novel from her perspective, mainly because she's so close-minded but also because she makes so many tragic mistakes while struggling with her power and in her quest to firmly belong to one thing and put herself in a box. I like the parallels between how both Elli and Ansa find themselves questioning everything they've known and their place in society. But, where Elli won my heart, Ansa is a heroine who takes a long time to grow up. I thought her growth would be more remarkable in the second-half of the novel, but instead she continues to be stubborn and repeat mistakes, only realizing her errors and growing up in the last few chapters.
I will say, though, that it was Thyra, finally, who I adored by the end of the novel. She sticks to her convictions, doesn't shirk her responsibilities, and is loyal to her tribe despite her misgivings about their lifestyle. She's willing to do whatever it takes to achieve peace, whether that be through a battle or another, less combative, means. I also love that Thyra pushes Ansa to think beyond the barriers society has erected for her and she never gives up on Ansa, even when Ansa is at her peak levels of stubborness. It was certainly an interesting choice to read this book from the perspective of Ansa--the character who believes in killing all other groups of people without regard for their culture or traditions or even peace just because she's more powerful--instead of the more rational-minded Thyra. But, I also give props to Fine for her daring and experimentation because, frankly, I think Ansa's perspective came across very well, which made it difficult to enjoy this novel but also seems necessary for the final installment.
Fine is a master of plot and world-building, and neither of those is lacking in this sequel. The Cursed Queen is thrilling and fast-paced and I particularly loved getting to delve deeper into the class and race relations of this world. I really love how they force readers to think about the prejudices we carry in our own society, too, and I am curious to see how all these different people and cultures can come together to find peace and balance in the final installment. Mostly, though, I am excited for Elli to return to the page. I missed her rational mind and calm thinking. Ansa is perfectly drawn up, in this sequel, but the pacing of her growth and the distinct lack of swoon in her relationship to Thyra (and by this I mean my confusion at why they were in love with each other when they clearly didn't really even know each other truly) made this a difficult novel to fall for. Of course, I am absolutely sticking around for the final book but I wouldn't rush out to pick this one up, especially if you were a fan of The Imposter Queen. In my humble opinion, lowered expectations are the way to go with this one.