November 29, 2016

Cybils Speculative Reader: THE IMPOSTER QUEEN, by SARAH FINE

Welcome to the 2016 Cybils Speculative Reader!

As a first run reader for the Cybils, I'll be briefly introducing you to the books on the list, giving you a mostly unbiased look at some of the plot.


I'm not too huge a fan of Fated King stories because it seems we've had endless permutations of Arthur &tc., being part of the Special Circle of Knights or being part of Merlin's coterie or Morganna's, etc. so stories of kings and princesses and prophesies are usually something I just race through and move on from. Sarah Fine's book arrested my attention because ...well, I'm not sure why. Maybe because I had no inkling, despite the title, that the protagonist wasn't really going to win the day. I was surprised and dismayed, along with the adults around her. That shows some skillful writing. While there are plots and counterplots in this novel, some more obvious than others, there's enough to keep a reader happily engaged, and enough for a sequel -- though because the novel ends tidily, a sequel is not necessary. And, that's what we like here!

Synopsis: Elli has lived a life of luxury, study, and expectation. As Saadella, she has whetted her curiosity against the sharpest minds in the kingdom, preparing for her role as Valtia. She has been told that she will be the most powerful to ever rule. Elli really doesn't care about that. The current Valtia must die in order for her the Saadella to lose her name and receive her power... and Elli's pretty much thrilled to let the current Valtia go on being the queen for as long as possible. The Valtia has cared for Elli since she was tiny, and is a clearer, sharper memory than Elli's own mother... thus, it's easy to tell when she begins to fail. Why don't any of the Valtia's ever live past their thirties? Why do the invaders have to come now?

What should have been a glorious victory for the Kupari turns from personal tragedy for Elli -- into disaster as the Saadella finally ascends to her throne, only to find that the magic which she has awaited -- gone. Instead of raised up and deified, Elli only feels ...hollow and empty and useless. And, soon, her uselessness is magnified by terror. How will she live? What will she do, if she is neither the Saadella nor the Valtia? What good is she?

Left with few choices, Elli disappears into the outlands, and finds herself in a nest of thieves -- but are they all thieves? Are they all bad people, as she has been taught? As they guide Elli into her new life, she realizes how much she hasn't learned about her own world -- and the prophesy that said she was powerful has a meaning she hadn't considered. There's a "right" side to be on, in the upcoming conflict, and then there's the side you make yourself. Elli's eventual grasping of her identity as a decider allows her to stop being used and to use circumstances for the betterment of all.

Observations: We've had a couple of books this Cybils cycle about powerlessness -- and I like how Fine deals with it, in such a way which gives it a real world application: after a theft of your power, you may have nothing left within you, but the hollow inside is empty for a purpose -- so that you can work as an amplifier on behalf of someone else. That's a pretty cool thought, when all is said and done. Elli was prepared to lose her name and lose her personal will on behalf of the people of her kingdom -- and while that in itself is laudable, sometimes our best power is to decide things for ourselves, on our own behalf, and if the kingdom comes along... well, okay.

Conclusion: Elli is a character who yearns for love, attention, and purpose, who knows when she's inflicting her affection on someone, but who doesn't always see when someone's affectionate attention is given to her. I like how Fine plays with ideas of power and will with a would-be queen, who is basically powerless in some ways, though she's allegedly the period at the end of the kingdom's sentence. Though I might wish the romance had been eliminated, to keep the reasons Elli does things more ..."pure," overall, I think this somewhat familiar narrative has just enough new things to engage teens seeking to understand their own powerlessness -- and to find ways to turn the tide of the world they know.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. You can find THE IMPOSTER QUEEN by Sara Fine at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

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