Series: The Impostor Queen #1
Published by Margaret K. McElderry on January 5th 2016
Genres: young adult, Fantasy & Magic
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Sixteen-year-old Elli was only a child when the Elders of Kupari chose her to succeed the Valtia, the queen who wields infinitely powerful ice and fire magic in service of her people. The only life Elli has known has been in the temple, surrounded by luxury, tutored by magic-wielding priests, preparing for the day when the queen perishes—and the ice and fire find a new home in Elli, who is prophesied to be the most powerful Valtia to ever rule.
But when the queen dies defending the kingdom from invading warriors, the magic doesn’t enter Elli. It’s nowhere to be found.
Disgraced, Elli flees to the outlands, home of banished criminals—some who would love to see the temple burn with all its priests inside. As she finds her footing in this new world, Elli uncovers devastating new information about the Kupari magic, those who wield it, and the prophecy that foretold her destiny. Torn between her love for her people and her growing loyalty to the banished, Elli struggles to understand the true role she was meant to play. But as war looms, she must choose the right side before the kingdom and its magic are completely destroyed.
Maryam already reviewed this title when the book first released, but Sarah Fine is one of my favorite authors, and I needed to also throw in my own two cents. So, my turn.
I’m sure that everyone already knows the premise for this book – the girl in the novel, Elli, is not the “chosen one,” and flees, fearing what will happen to her when the people who swore to protect her can’t seem to explain her lack of magic. We follow Elli as she seeks refuge with the outside world and works to fit in with the outcasts of her kingdom, working for a living, blending in with common people who use their own magic, fire or ice, for leisure, instead of dedicating their lives to the government body of Kupari.
Despite the fantasy setting of the novel, Fine still delves deep into her world, just like the civil justice themes in Of Metal and Wishes. The magic system in The Impostor Queen is quite fascinating, with magic users either wielding fire or ice, and with varying levels of power. But the female ruler of the land, the Valtia, is a carrier of both magics in her blood. The “princess” below her, the Saadela, trains to take her place, destined to take the vacancy when the young female ruler passes. So right there, we have a country, or a settlement ruled by a feared female monarch. However, Fine makes it clear from the start that not everything is so cut and dry from the start.
The Valtia and the Saadela share a close bond, but the two are never allowed to spend time together, which is suspicious, for the future ruler to never directly study from the source herself. Also, I found it interesting that when the two female rulers are presented to the people for ceremonial purposes, they are presented with masks made from a delicate make-up mixture, which presents the people as statue-like, with no voice, emotions, or expression. The Valtia is worshiped but not loved. The people are slowly taught to see her as a tool and not a person.
On the surface, this works for the people, since the Valtias are taught to never take a lover, since the bodies of the women are for the people, and for their own purpose. Without using her direct words, Fine crafts a perfect example of a real life problem women face in the world today: to stand on a pedestal and live to an impossible standard, or crumble and become worthless. The women of Kupari are just servants, having no autonomy. Freedom of choice is a struggle that women face every day. Many people believe that this high standard placed on women is a blessing, but what is expected of today’s female culture is perfection, obedience, and inhuman tolerance for injustice. This isn’t a true ruler, but a pretty governmental puppet.
Elli, while on the naive, reckless side, is sharp enough to see through some of the same screens and starts to raise questions. She has a great balance of natural curiosity and lack of wisdom, which allows her to bumble into the problem plaguing the very country she was sworn to protect. One of the great aspects of the novel was giving the story a teenage character I could believe in. Smart enough to make it, and blind enough to get into trouble.
She was emotional, determined, confused, hungry for love and life, and scared of her own body and emotions. I honestly was stung by Elli’s fear and yearning for human contact and love. I found it refreshing that her sexuality was open and never discussed, but was left for the reader to interpret, like a young girl experiencing her own sexual awakening. It was beautiful to watch her try to find herself in the middle of the expectations set on her shoulders, and while she was given a life of luxury, it was plain to see how she was neglected of other important human necessities, such as contact, love and knowledge of her world.
The romance and the interaction with the other characters was a beautiful balance as well. The blooming side love story was a slow burn, and it was even left with an open end, as if it might be possible the characters could grow apart, like a first time romance for a young girl. When the clear antagonist arrived in the story, Fine once again comes in with her superb skill set and weaves her complicated story of the shaded grey area of right and wrong. Even the subject of the prophecy is smartly woven into the storyline, and if this wasn’t a series, I think I would have torn my hair right out of my head. Or done some other crazy things.
Sarah Fine has yet to let me down. Not only are her stories entertaining and beautiful, but smart and relevant to the target audience. There is always something below the surface, and plenty above to keep any reader engaged.