Author: Rebecca Stead
Rating: 4 stars
***Newberry Medal Winner 2010***
This book was so good!
I'm trying to figure out how to describe it without giving the twists away. Hmmm...
I'm going to stick with the blurb:
"By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, and they know who to avoid. Like the crazy guy on the corner.
But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper:
I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.
The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows things no one should know. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late."
Miranda is a great young heroine. She is making her way through adolescence and that uncomfortable time when being friends with boys changes and you realize your parents aren't perfect. As I was reading and picked up on the science fiction angle I thought - this book is a genuinely good middle-grade novel, there's no need for the all this. But I stand corrected. I loved it. I loved how all the threads came together at the end.
I liked how unique and quirky all the characters were! Even now I'm a little down the book is over.
The Queen's Rising is a beautiful and imaginative story about Brienna, a young woman torn between identities, and the journey she takes to help reclaim her heritage.
The tale starts in a kind of quasi-French or other Western European Rennaissance-era kind of place where a very describable goal for children and young people is to 'passion' in a particular school: art, wit, dramatics, music, or knowledge. To do so, children must become 'ardens', attend Houses and train at an average of seven years with a Master or 'ariels'. Then they may graduate by receiving a cloak, find a patron, and continue to pursue their passion. I loved this worldbuilding, I just felt so at home with everything Brienna was learning. Brienna joins Magnolia House, but as she is unable to find a passion she can truly excel at she settles on knowledge, and when she is seventeen she finds it difficult to secure a patron until along comes someone who can help with the mysterious visions she has been experiencing. This patron leads her into a war for the throne of the neighbouring land, from which Brienna's absent father hails, and I think it's more based on the medieval Celts, with women warriors and woad and Irish-Gaelic inspired names.
I think the best thing about this book is the beautiful word choices Ross uses. Whenever there is a chance to use a bland description or a truly beautiful one, Ross manages to grab the beautiful description and wrangle it into her book. Brienna herself was a brave, resourceful character who worked hard to uncover the mysteries surrounding herself and help the plot move along. I loved the time spent in Magnolia House with her arden-sisters and the slow introduction made to the incredible worldbuilding in that respect. Magnolia House was almost like a boarding house crossed with a University and a distinct European feel to it. Think Girl with a Pearl Earring or The Merchant of Venice. I really hope the next books in the series follow Brienna's arden-sisters and we get to see more of this kingdom.
The second half of the book takes place primarily in Maevana, a queen's realm currently being ruled by a cruel king, and Brienna is the answer the rebels have been looking for. Using a disguise, she infiltrates the king's court in an attempt to recover some lost property that will set the real queen back on the throne. This half of the book almost forgets about Brienna's time at Magnolia and turns into a very typical, predictable YA fantasy adventure. Not that there's anything wrong with that! I've simply read enough of these types of stories to know where it's going to go. I still enjoyed it, but I think since the Magnolia House half to me seemed more original and inventive, I liked the worldbuilding better in the first half. The second half, like I said, was more of an adventure that the first half was leading up to, even though they take place in two very different settings.
I do have two issues with the book. Brienna trains for a year with each ariel before she settles on knowledge as her passion, and she only has three years to master it. This means that she’s had some training in music, art, wit and dramatics, and I was really hoping that that training might come in handy during her subterfuge. Yet instead of any of her time at Magnolia being of use, the book is basically split into two parts: Magnolia and post-Magnolia, and it almost seems as if they have nothing in common. Brienna learns to swordfight post-Magnolia, and that comes in handy, but she doesn’t have to use her passion training at all. I think part of the reason why is because she kind of sucked at them, but she doesn’t even really use her expanded knowledge to help her succeed in her mission, so it feels a little disjointed.
The other issue I have with the book is that while there is conflict in that Brienna has a goal and she keeps getting hurdles put in the way, she clears these hurdles rather easily. She’s smart and can come up with solutions to her problems but I never really felt like Ross took the worst thing that could happen to her. It wasn’t exactly helicopter authoring in that Ross put Brienna in bad situations then lifted her out again, just that, for example, when Brienna was risking her life and doing things she shouldn’t be doing, she never got caught by the bad guys, even though I really hoped that was where it was leading.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed The Queen's Rising, with its gorgeous writing and creative and innovative worldbuilding. While I do think the entire story is self-contained and makes an excellent stand-alone, I would also like the next books in the series to focus on Brienna's arden-sisters and their adventures, rather than staying with Brienna and whatever she does next. I guess I'll have to wait and see!
I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Thanks to NetGalley and to St. Martin’s Press for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.
In case you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to read the whole review (you know I can go on and on), I love this novel. I recommend it to anybody who enjoys historical fiction with a mystery at its heart, especially if you enjoy gothic novels. If you love Rebecca and Jane Eyre, I would advise you to check it out. And, for the insights it offers on the society of the time (both sides of the Atlantic), I think fans of Jane Austen who are interested in novels beyond the Regency period will also enjoy it.
This historical novel, set at the end of the XIX century, starts with a murder and the mystery surrounding it. On the day when Annabelle and Bay, a couple of the best of New York society (Annabelle, the aristocratic English wife of the heir of the Van Duyvil dinasty) have organised a ball to celebrate the completion of their new mansion, he is found dead with a knife (a dagger from his costume) in his chest, and his wife is presumed drowned under the icy waters of the river. Janie, Bay’s sister, alarmed at the different versions of the story that circulate (either her brother killed his adulterous wife and then committed suicide, or his wife killed him intending to run away with her lover, although her brother is also accused of adultery with their cousin Anne…) and how they will affect her little niece and nephew, decides to try to find the truth. She chooses an unlikely ally (more unlikely than she realises at the time), a reporter (her mother values privacy, appearances, and reputation above all, and she appears to be the perfect obedient daughter), and the novel tells the story of their investigation, that we get to follow chronologically from the moment the body is discovered, in January 1899, for several weeks. We also get to read about events that took place several years earlier (from 1894 onward), when Annabelle (also known as Georgie) first met Bay, in London. She was working as an actress and they become friends. These two strands of the story, told in the third person, but each one from the point of view of one of the main characters, Janie and Georgie, run in parallel until towards the very end, and that offers us different perspectives and insight while at the same time helping keep the mystery going. The more we know about the ins and outs of the characters, their relationships, their families, and their secrets (and there are many. Other than Janie, who only starts keeping secrets after her brother’s death, all the rest of the characters carry heavy loads, sometimes theirs, sometimes those of others), the more we feel invested in the story, and the more suspects and red herrings that keep appearing. I have read some reviewers that complained about the story not being a mystery or a thriller. Well, a thriller it is not, for sure (although I found the reading experience thrilling for other reasons). It has some of the elements of a classic mystery of the era, with the added beauty of the detailed setting, the appreciation of the subtle social nuances of the time, the strong portrayal of the characters, and the beautiful language. You might guess who the guilty party is (I must confess I kept wavering between several possible explanations), and also some of the other secrets (some are more evident than others), but I thought it worked well, although not, perhaps, for a reader who is looking, exclusively, for a mystery and wants to get to the bottom of it as soon as possible. This is not a book written following the rules of the genre we are so familiar with (nothing extraneous that does not move the story forward, kill you darlings, keep descriptions to a minimum) and, in my opinion, is all he better for it.
This book is full of great characters. We are limited to two points of view only, which might be biased due to personal reasons, and some characters, like Cousin Anne, generates strong emotions from all those involved (she never conforms, she steals the man her cousin Janie was going to marry, later divorces, and her attitude towards Annabelle is not supportive), but she has some of the best lines, and we get to understand her quite well by the end of the story. Janie, who has always been dismissed by her mother and ignored by the rest of the family, is an articulate, intelligent, cultured, and determined woman. Burke, the reporter, is a complex character with stronger morals than anybody would give him credit for, and Mrs. Van Duyvil, the mother, is a larger-than-life woman, whose influence is felt by those who come into contact with her, and she is far from likeable, and there are other characters that appear in a negative light. Even the “good” characters (Bay and Janie) have complex motives for their actions, and nothing is a black or white as we might think at the beginning.
As I mentioned above, the author (whose work I’d never read before but I’ll make sure to check) captures well the nuances of the time, the dress, the setting, the social mores (yes, a little like Jane Austen, although in a very different historical period), writes beautifully, and her choice of female characters as narrators allows us a good insight into what life was like at the time for women, whose power always had to be channelled through men. Times were changing already, and people keep referring to the Vanderbilts’ divorce, but this was not generally accepted yet, and certain things had to be kept hidden. The dialogue is full of wit and spark at times, and although there is drama, sadness and grief, there is also merriment, fun, romance, and very insightful comments on the society of the time (and yes, our society as well).
The book is full of literary references, historical-era appropriate, and most readers fond of the genre will enjoy the comments about books (and plays) of the time. I did. The narrative takes its time to explore the situations and the characters in detail, but I felt it moved at the right pace, giving us a chance to reflect upon the serious questions behind the story. Who decides who we truly are? How important are appearances and society conventions? What role should other people’s opinions play in our lives and actions? I don’t want to give any spoilers away (I enjoyed the ending, by the way, but that’s all I’ll say about it), but I thought I’d share some snippets from the book.
The juries of the world were made of men. A man could hold his honor dear in masculine matters such as gambling debts and never mind that he left a trail of ruined women behind him. Men diced with coin; women diced with their lives.
Georgie took a sip of her own tea. It was too weak. It was always too weak. She blamed it on the Revolution. Since the Boston Tea Party, the Americans had apparently been conserving their tea leaves.
“So you came rushing through the ice?” Janie didn’t know whether to be touched or shake him for being so foolish. “Slaying a dragon would have been easier. And warmer.”
Viola lifted her head. “I don’t want a lullaby. I want a story.” “Even better. I have a wonderful one about a prince who turned into a toad. You’ll adore it. It’s very educational.” (This is Anne. She has many wonderful retorts).
And this one must be one of my favourite sentences of the year so far:
Janie felt like a prism: fragile, but with the chance of rainbows.
In sum, a beautifully written historical fiction novel, with a mystery (several) at its heart, memorable characters, fantastic dialogue, and a gothic touch. Unmissable.
My streak has continued... I have been extremely lucky lately with my book selections and The Queen's Rising did not disappoint! It was beautifully written (though sometimes transparent and predictable) and it was ultimately, wholeheartedly and undeniably satisfying. Yes it did suffer a bit from Things-Conveniently-Falling-Into-Place- Rather- Easily syndrome AND the romance was a tad mechanical, saccharine and tame BUT it was ALSO a fun, engrossing, uplifting gem gifted nicely (and rather neatly wrapped) with a big ole Happy Ending for (Almost) All glitter bow.