When sisters Muna and Sakti wake up on the peaceful beach of the island of Janda Baik, they can’t remember anything, except that they are bound as only sisters can be. They have been cursed by an unknown enchanter, and slowly Sakti starts to fade away. The only hope of saving her is to go to distant Britain, where the Sorceress Royal has established an academy to train women in magic.
If Muna is to save her sister, she must learn to navigate high society, and trick the English magicians into believing she is a magical prodigy. As she’s drawn into their intrigues, she must uncover the secrets of her past, and journey into a world with more magic than she had ever dreamed.
This book was a little up and down for me so this is going to be a mixed review.
I did really enjoy The True Queen, but just not quite as much as I’d hoped. Let’s start with the positives. The writing in parts reminded me a bit of Diana Wynne Jones, especially because of the prose, which was both lovely and effective. And, although it took me a long time to connect with the characters, I did enjoy them in the end. This is a bit of fish out of water story in more than one way. Not only is Muna a foreigner newly arrived to England, but she’s a non-magician masquerading as a magician. Or is she? There’s a bit of a mystery to be solved in this story, but you really don’t know what the real mystery is until halfway through. At first it’s all about saving Muna’s sister, Sakti. This involves a trip into Fairy, rescuing other friends, and a load of other tasks before that can even get started. But eventually it’s all about this overarching mystery and how all of these, seemingly unconnected events, come together to create a bigger picture. So, while the plot isn’t convoluted in any shape or form, it turns out that it’s not exactly completely straight forward either. I liked that.
I also want to mention that one of the stand out characters in this for me was Henrietta. She’s probably the only character that I connected with early on. She’s living a double life, hiding the truth about teaching at Prunella’s magic school for ladies from her parents. But even though she’s hiding that she’s not afraid to go after what she wants. I found her character arc very compelling. Perhaps, in comparison, the other characters felt a bit lacking if I’m being honest, because any growth seemed to come from external issues rather than from something within. (And if you’ve read the book already, you’ll get why this is ironic.)
The pacing of the book was the biggest problem for me. Parts of it really dragged. The beginning of the story felt so long and even with listening to it on audio I kept getting bored and switching it off. Then again, this is very much a fantasy of manners type of story so if you’re expecting a lot of action you’re probably going to be disappointed until around the halfway mark or so. But even in fantasy of manners things happen, and it felt like it took forever for anything to start happening in this book. The beginning of the story is a lot of set up but you don’t realize that so much of it is set up until much later in the story when everything, finally, starts coming together. So, while I truly appreciated the way things came together in the end, I do wish it wasn’t such a slough to get there. It shouldn’t take me fifty percent of the way through a book before I start to get interested in what’s happening.
There were a few revelations too. I’m not sure if they were meant to be so mysterious because they’re foreshadowed pretty well. Perhaps I would have liked the revelation to have been a bit more surprising, but I’ll happily take figuring things out and then thinking I’m super smart for figuring things out because that’s always fun too. 😉
Overall, there were some real highlights for me–the prose, the setting, the characters once they came into their own. But there were also a few downsides, such as the pacing, which made it a bit of a chore to read at times. I’d still recommend checking this one out if you like fantasy of manners, queer romance, or stories involving the fae. 3.5/5 stars.