A Queen in Hiding, by Sarah Kozloff

Review copy provided by Tor Books.

Okay, so here is what you need to know about whether this book will drive you up a tree: the princess is for no reason explained in the book called a princella instead. Just to be more fantasy-y. And the princella and her mother the queen are the only two people in the world who grow naturally blue hair as a mark of their royalty.

Now, if you got through that and thought, what the hell, I grew up on Mercedes Lackey’s white horseys and I’ve been sick, yeah, pretty much, let’s go with it, this is that book, this is exactly the book to read when you want to curl up on the couch with a fantasy adventure where all the queens for hundreds of years have had the same first initial and there are loads of specially special signs and animals talk to young girls in their heads but never about anything really upsetting and uncouth.

I want a book like that sometimes. I don’t usually want it twice, and I never read through it telling myself it’s perfect. But there are sea battles, there are thrilling escapes, there are wicked schemes, there are loyal retainers, and if you want a one of those, it sure is a one of those. By cracky it sure is. (The duke and duchess’s kids are duchettes. I. I just. Duchettes, they are duchettes. Sure why not.) The ending has a twist that is not really supported by much of anything except the need to proceed into the next three books, all of which are coming out this year. And the more I thought about it after…well, don’t think about it after, is my advice.

Once I was away from the adventure of it, one of the fascinating things about this book is how its surface politics and its deep politics contradict each other. One of the things that the villains are angry with the good nice queen about is her support of equity, wanting workers to get paid well and not exploited! Buuuuut when you look at how the actual farmers are treated by the book, farming is treated as stupid and brainless at every turn, completely unskilled. Spending her entire childhood with farmers gives the princella zero insight into the skills necessary for farming even though she can speak to animals, because animal husbandry apparently takes no skill at all. (Spoiler alert: this is wrong.) The very spirits of the world are constantly demonstrating how special the royals are compared to the common folk, and given an entire childhood to learn about the ways of the common folk, mainly what the princella seems to learn is wow, these people sure are dumb and boring. So what we’re getting here is noblesse oblige, not equity.

It does not get better from there. Maybe the sequels will. Or not; they’re already in production, so there’s no chance for Kozloff to take a breath and learn. It’s all coming on very, very quickly for the princella and her…I can’t really say friends, because she spends her childhood with one best friend who never gets a personality. I can’t say allies. Subjects, though. It’s all coming on very, very quickly for the princella and her subjects, and if that’s the kind of fun you want, here it is.

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