title: The Orphan Queen
author: Jodi Meadows
buy it: Amazon Goodreads B&N
rating: 4.3/5 [in the genre] or 8/10 [all books I’ve ever read].
recommended for: Fans of Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke, Incarnate by Jodi Meadows (duh).
will i read this author again?: Yes!
will i continue the series?: I may die if I don't get The Mirror King right now.
My Ratings Explained
Wilhelmina has a hundred identities.
She is a princess. When the Indigo Kingdom conquered her homeland, Wilhelmina and other orphaned children of nobility were taken to Skyvale, the Indigo Kingdom’s capital. Ten years later, they are the Ospreys, experts at stealth and theft. With them, Wilhelmina means to take back her throne.
She is a spy. Wil and her best friend, Melanie, infiltrate Skyvale Palace to study their foes. They assume the identities of nobles from a wraith-fallen kingdom, but enemies fill the palace, and Melanie’s behavior grows suspicious. With Osprey missions becoming increasingly dangerous and their leader more unstable, Wil can’t trust anyone.
She is a threat. Wraith is the toxic by-product of magic, and for a century using magic has been forbidden. Still the wraith pours across the continent, reshaping the land and animals into fresh horrors. Soon it will reach the Indigo Kingdom. Wilhelmina’s magic might be the key to stopping the wraith, but if the vigilante Black Knife discovers Wil’s magic, she will vanish like all the others
Jodi Meadows introduces a vivid new fantasy full of intrigue, romance, dangerous magic, and one girl’s battle to reclaim her place in the world.
the basicsThough The Orphan Queen and I had a rocky start, I closed the last page aching for more. The writing is very different from Meadows' Newsoul series, blunter and less poetic. I think I initially craved that prettiness and polish. The plot also ramped up a little slowly for a person with my thinness of patience. Yet, the more I read, the more I felt swept up into Wil's haunted, perilous world. Many years have passed since Wil saw the Indigo Army execute her parents and overtake her kingdom, but she has never given up on reclaiming Aecor's throne. She and the other highborn orphans have a plan--one that thrusts Wil and her best friend into thick of the court that stole their birthright. What follows is a lovely game of intrigue and deception between Wil and the court, Wil and her friends, even Wil and herself. What begins as a simple incursion gains worldly scope when Wil realizes that retaking her kingdom is not enough; the deadly magical Wraith lingers on the horizon, and the fate of her kingdom is inextricably entwined with the fate of the Indigo rulers she despises. And then there's Black Knife, the enigmatic vigilante who seems more important to Wil's goals than she ever could have realized. The fast-paced thriller/adventure culminates in an absolutely shocking cliffhanger. The Mirror King couldn't come too soon.
plot . 3.5/5Unlike the fluidly paced Incarnate, The Orphan Queen stumbles through much of its first half. Important events are too staggered, with overwrought conversations and inner monologues fluffing up the spaces between. I'd have liked Meadows to shorten the introduction with the Ospreys, allowing her to spend more time observing Wil in the castle and Wil with the Black
Yet, the book sneaked up on me. I can't say when the change happened. Slowly, I found myself having a more difficult time putting it down. By the middle, I was racing, and I finished the last third in a night. While Wil's decision to go after the wraith feels a little contrived and abrupt, it raises the stakes and brings on the magic that Meadows is so good at. Some of my favorite scenes were Wil contending with the wraith; Meadows imagination is cruelly apt. I'll only say: the bug scene.
Secrets abound in this book, and their unraveling is a foregone conclusion. The plots become more entangled and tense until inaction becomes deadly and Wil is forced to make impossible choices. The final scenes are less epic than you'd expect, but set in place a chain of events that promise an explosion. And that ending. Good god, the cruelty! I'm impressed that Meadows took that risk, but I can imagine some readers cursing her for it. I did curse her--a little--but I also thought it a clever bridge between books one and two. Now publish Mirror King, dammit.
* Clearly I have Batman on the mind.
concept . 5/5Fantasy Batman. Check and mate.
Ha, seriously, though, Meadows again brings fantasy into new territory. She seamlessly merges a lost kingdom story with a vigilante story with an orphan story with a pre-apocalyptic story into one fantastic blend that does credit to its predecessors while carving out its own territory. There's an element of The Princess Bride, I think. Something about the masked man, the commonplace fantasy tropes made exciting, the banter. The keystone of these typical elements is Meadows' use of magic. Magic is something specific. Each person, if they have it at all, have a specific ability. Fire, maybe, or animation, or growing. Magic also has side effects. Like CFCs trickling out of cans of hairspray, magic leaks wraith, a chaotic, corrupting power. Wraith can give you a high; it can also warp landscapes, turn animals into monsters, make monsters of men. And it doesn't dissipate. Whole kingdoms have been swallowed by the wraith and turned into Salvador Dali wastelands. The Indigo Kingdom has tried to stop it by making magic use illegal--the very reason they captured Aecor, who disagreed with the ban--but they can't ignore the truth: the wraith is coming. It's this fantastic concept, the constant permeating dread, that elevates The Orphan Queen from a charming courtly fantasy with clear villains to a complex struggle between the needs of people, of kingdoms, and of the land.
Also fantasy Batman.
characters . 4/5Wil is a bit your typical strong-woman knife-wielding stubborn foolhardy fantasy firebrand, but she's a well-written one. She also grows tremendously across the story, which truly endeared her to me. She begins to question her preconceptions and challenge the status quo. She learns what lines she won't cross to be queen. She also establishes herself as a brave warrior and a snarky, clever diplomat. She's still somewhat childish by the end, but she's on her way. Obviously, Black Knife is my favorite. Charmingly infuriating, whip-smart, and also compassionate, he's pretty much impossible to hate. I also loved prince Tobiah, sullen and bored, and James, delightfully flirtatious and sweet. The friendship between them was so sweet and strong. Which is my complaint about Melanie, who feels cardboard. See below.
style . 4/5At first, I felt a twinge of disappointment. Meadows' writing style in the Newsoul series was so fluid, so painterly, so atmospheric. The style here is much more blunt and seems to lack that poetic quality I so loved. At least, that's how I felt at first. Though I still think of Incarnate as the better example of craft, The Orphan Queen's voice grew on me. Really, Wil's voice grew on me. She isn't a very poetic person. She's pragmatic. She often slips into black and white. She diverges into internal monologues. And her voice is plainer because of it. But, though plain, her voice was very solid. The dialogue was witty and sharp, the descriptions were clear, and there wasn't much mincing of words. It's not amazing writing, but it's very good, and there were at least two dozen passages I marked because I loved them. That woman has a devious sense of pacing. She also impressed me immensely with her descriptions of the wraithland. Remember the bug scene? I literally shivered reading it, with a true sense of terror. Her imagination is astounding, and I can't wait to read more.
mechanics . 2/5Women aren't terribly well treated in this book, which makes me sad, since Meadows can write such vibrant women so well. Melanie was so disappointing for me. For Wil's best friend, she stays a great deal on the sidelines. It's Wil who gains the king's attention and invitations, Wil who is targeted by the court ladies. Melanie is mostly there to deliver messages and braid hair. I couldn't understand how Wil could call Melanie her best friend, yet give her no benefit of the doubt and exclude her from all plans. She trusts Black Knife, a vigilante who could be traitorous, over Melanie, and confides in him instead of Melanie. Few other women are portrayed, and few of these are portrayed well. Meredith is dull, Chey is cruel, and queen is invisible, and the female Ospreys are nearly absent. Despite Wil representing a powerful, kickass girl, it's the men in this book who are charming, vivid, and competent, while the women are a lackluster scenery.
take home message
Despite a slow beginning, The Orphan Queen asserts itself as gem of contemporary fantasy: funny, clever, and imbued with the kind of imagination that seeps into your bones and makes you feel just a little more magical.
Note: I purchased this copy. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.