A Tyranny of Queens by Foz Meadows
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A book of numerous flaws, but with strengths that, for me, outweighed them.
As with the first book, there's a whole lot of coincidence driving the plot, including separate people in different worlds repeatedly figuring out the same thing at the same time for different reasons. The author goes so far as to lampshade this abundance of helpful coincidence at one point, through the mouth of the central character, who comes very close to being what I call a "spoiled protagonist" - handed what she needs when she needs it. I say that she comes close, because she also has a rough time of it. Ultimately, though, she (and most of the other characters) lack agency at key moments of the plot.
This may be a deliberate choice, like a lot of the issues. Another problem with the book is that it does read a bit like it's filling a diversity bingo card, rather than exploring any issue of diversity in any depth. I heard an interview with the author on the Skiffy and Fanty podcast, and she mentioned that the world was one she'd started building when she was around the age of the main character (mid-teens); this may be why it seems a bit like wish-fulfillment at times; why the backstory to the matriarchal society turns out to be so banal and unsurprising; and also why the names are often confusing in their similarity. Here's a de-spoilerised sample:
'"...Kadeja," Yena said. She sat at Yasha's bedside, flanked by Sashi and Safi, while Ksa a Kaje watched...'
I read the first book in the middle of last year, and I couldn't remember enough of the it to make head or tail of the political bits for a long time. I did what I usually do in this situation: let them wash over me and kept reading until I got back to something more interesting. Ultimately, the political maneuverings were background to the real story in any case.
The real story - or the one that felt real to me - was the story of Saffron, the teenager from our world's Australia (though it's never clarified in this volume that it's Australia, and that will confuse some readers). She's returned, maimed, from her difficult experiences in book 1 to her home, and nobody understands what she's gone through, and she can't tell them. She hasn't thought about her best friend much - the best friend seems to exist mainly because someone like Saffron would have one, not because she contributes much of anything - but she makes a new friend, who helps her escape the life that's now alien and intolerable to her, and then vanishes from the plot. Saffron and Yena, the transgender girl who she developed a tentative attraction to in the first book, have parallel plotlines for a long time, in different worlds, not really thinking about each other much (and certainly not with any kind of longing); they then, when they meet, fall into a passionate embrace and suddenly have a fully formed relationship. It's kind of like a romance, except with most of the beats removed, and, like other aspects of the plot, felt unearned and undeveloped.
Despite all these flaws, and the overuse of the metaphor of a heart "rabbiting" in someone's chest, I did enjoy this book - at least the Saffron parts, and to a lesser extent the Yena parts. That was because they were passionate about things and pursued them with determination, even if they sometimes lacked agency despite their best efforts, and at other times were handed solutions without working for them. I felt for them in their difficult situations, and that constitutes the book's success, for me.
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