I received an e-arc of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book in any way.
A KINGDOM AT RISK, A CROWN DIVIDED, A FAMILY DRENCHED IN BLOOD
Tessa Gratton’s debut epic adult fantasy, The Queens of Innis Lear, brings to life a world that hums with ancient magic, and characters as ruthless as the tides.
The erratic decisions of a prophecy-obsessed king have drained Innis Lear of its wild magic, leaving behind a trail of barren crops and despondent subjects. Enemy nations circle the once-bountiful isle, sensing its growing vulnerability, hungry to control the ideal port for all trade routes.
The king’s three daughters – battle-hungry Gaela, master manipulator Reagan, and restrained, starblessed Elia – know the realm’s only chance of resurrection is to crown a new sovereign, proving a strong hand can resurrect magic and defend itself. But their father will not choose an heir until the longest night of the year, when prophecies align and a poison ritual can be enacted.
Refusing to leave their future in the hands of blind faith, the daughters of Innis Lear prepare for war – but regardless of who wins the crown, the shores of Innis will weep the blood of a house divided.
This book had me very conflicted. On the one hand I truly enjoyed parts of it, while on the other hand I was really frustrated by it. Let’s start with the positives.
The storyline was great: this is basically a retelling of King Lear with magic. I really enjoyed finding parallels with the original and seeing how the book differed. There were enough original elements to keep the plot interesting, and I liked the magical elements especially because of their uniqueness and darkness. The prose was also spectacular! From the first sentence, I was hooked: Tessa Gratton has a way of making everything come alive when describing it in one of the best lyrical proses I have had the pleasure of reading in a really long time.
The worldbuilding was also amazing! It took me a while to get the hang of it, but once I did, I really appreciated the whole setting. The island felt like a character in itself, with a life, will, and desires of its own. I also truly felt like I understood the way society was organised and the people’s mindset. It was interesting to note just how much those tensions influenced characters’ behaviours. The relations between Innis Lear and neighbouring countries were also extremely well developed and thoroughly explored, providing a much-needed explanation for certain characters’ choices.
Which brings me to the characters, one of the best features in this book for me. The multiple POVs proved fairly challenging and confusing at the beginning, but when I finally settled in them, I appreciated the enhanced understanding of each character’s motivations and reasoning that these provide. I found all characters to be incredibly well-rounded and developed throughout the book, and while some were definitely more appealing than others, I appreciated all of them. A special mention goes, of course, to the titular queens: the three sisters were exceptional and had such unique voices that I really felt like I was gradually getting to know them personally.
At the same time, however, I had some significant issues with this book, which prevented me from fully enjoying it. As I mentioned above, there are several POVs, and while I appreciated them, I sometimes felt there were just a few too many for me to keep track of the plot and the characters themselves as I wanted to. The geography of the place also got confusing at one point, and I ended up confusing different realms and had to go back and read whole passages again. I think this is mostly due to it all being introduced at the same time right at the beginning, which made me feel like I was unable to keep track of all the new information I was receiving.
The most significant problem for me, however, was with the pacing of this book. For the most part, it felt terribly slow and I struggled to feel like I was making any progress at all. It was only because of how much I enjoyed the prose and my curiosity in wanting to see where the story would lead us that I decided to stick it out and finish it. It was definitely worth the effort, but I still feel like it could have been less painful to get through.
Overall, this is a really solid read but one that unfortunately had some issues which prevented me from fully enjoying it. I look forward to seeing what else Tessa Gratton has in store for us!