This review is based on an ARC given to me for free by the publisher, Angry Robot Books. This does not in any way affect my review. The book is slated for release on May 2, 2017.
This book is second in a series. Therefore, it may contain references to events in the first book, An Accident of Stars, which may be considered spoilers for said book. Please read An Accident of Stars before reading this review.
Anyone who knows me personally knows that I can react very emotionally to the things I read. I don’t show it in public, of course; I mean, I do have manners, after all, and a solid work ethic that most definitely does not include bawling my eyes out at my desk because feels. But though years of reading fanfic have gifted me with the ability to project a poker face to the rest of the world, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m feeling as calm as I look. Underneath all of that calm is plenty of (mental) screaming, arm-flailing, and rapid-fire bilingual cursing as I try to work through all the many emotions something I read may have caused me to feel. Of course, these reactions can be to a really good book, or a really bad book, but if I’m lucky – really, truly lucky – I’m reacting to a book that managed to dig down deep enough that I have no choice but to break the poker face and scamper for the nearest bathroom so I can shed a few tears with some modicum of privacy.
That last bit is precisely what happened to me while reading A Tyranny of Queens, the second book in the Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows. In the aftermath of the momentous events towards the end of the first book An Accident of Stars, the characters must now face the consequences of their actions. Back in her home world, Saffron Coulter must now face the challenges of her reality: a reality where she cannot tell anyone what has happened to her, lest they think her crazy. Over in Kena, Gwen and her friends and family must now try to figure out where Leoden has gone, as well as try to understand why he did what he did and what he plans to do next. And in Veksh, Yena decides to take a course of action that could help Gwen and the others find the answers they need – or get her killed.
In my review of An Accident of Stars, I mentioned a lot of positive things about that book, commenting on the quality of its worldbuilding, characterisation, and the themes the author chose to tackle. It is, overall, an amazing book, and it makes me smile just thinking about it. (I think I should reread it, if for no other reason than that it makes me happy.) A lot of that quality carries over into A Tyranny of Queens: the characters continue to grow as they meet the challenges that arose as a result of their actions in the first book, while a set of new characters shares the stage with them. That obviously means Saffron and Gwen (but especially Saffron) have a lot of problems they need to tackle in their own way, but in this novel other characters come forward into the limelight – most notably Yena, who had a fairly small role in An Accident of Stars but who really shines (and how!) in this novel. Of the new characters, my personal favourite is Naruet, but in order to avoid spoilers I won’t really mention why I like him so much. Readers will just have to find out for themselves why I think he’s absolutely wonderful.
As for the worldbuilding, since most if it’s already been accomplished in An Accident of Stars, there isn’t as much of it to be done in this novel. That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t any new worlds to see. This series is, after all, about people who can move between worlds – and in the climax of the previous novel readers found out that Gwen and Saffron aren’t the only worldwalkers in existence. To be sure, these worlds aren’t described to the same depth and breadth as Kena, but readers do get a pretty good feel for what they’re like. Hopefully, if there are more books in this series (and I really, really hope there are more – yes, this is me very unsubtly begging the author for more books if at all possible), those worlds will be described in better and greater depth and detail. As things stand, though, most of the action takes place in Kena, Veksh, and Earth, so there’s really no need to retread the same ground that was already laid down in the first book.
But what I loved the most about An Accident of Stars, and what I still love the most about A Tyranny of Queens, is how both books focus on relationships, and how those relationships can make, or break, a person. But if in An Accident of Stars the focus was on the positive power of relationships – how they can help empower people and make them into better versions of themselves, and through them shape a better world – A Tyranny of Queens focuses on how the more negative sides of relationships. After all, at its base the word “relationship” is one used to describe how a group of people interact with each other, and that interaction can be good, or bad – or more often than not, both.
And it was the parts dealing with those relationships – specifically, Saffron’s relationship with her family on Earth – that dug up some really old, really sensitive issues I’d thought I’d buried a long time back, only to have them come roaring to the surface while I was reading. Those memories were painful enough that I had to have a good cry and not read the book for a while because I was too emotionally raw to go on with the story.
Normally I wouldn’t bring these issues up in a review, of all places, but I’m mentioning it because I want to emphasise how, in my opinion, a good book isn’t always about positive feelings. Yeah, sure, there’s nothing wrong with reading to make oneself happy – I definitely get that need to escape from reality for a while into a place that’s anywhere but here and now, and the Manifold Worlds series, as portal fantasies, definitely play into that idea. But sometimes, a good book, a really good one, doesn’t make readers feel happy fuzzy feelings so much as it cuts deeply and hurts in doing so.
This reminds me of a quote from Franz Kafka, about what a good book is supposed to be: “I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? … A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” While I don’t agree that all books should be like that, every so often, a book that hurts us and wounds us is just as good, just as important a book as one that makes us feel all happy inside. I didn’t pick up A Tyranny of Queens thinking it would hurt me, but I love it all the more because it did – and, more importantly, put my broken heart back together.
However, despite all of these very good things, this novel does have one problem: the plot’s uneven pacing. The pace in An Accident of Stars was kind of slow, but it made sense because the book was obviously trying to build the world and the characters, letting the reader settle in slowly so that when things did start happening really quickly in the book’s latter third, readers wouldn’t get lost. In A Tyranny of Queens the plot is more action-oriented and therefore goes by much more quickly, but along the way there are plenty of little details and plot threads that are left hanging and aren’t resolved by the end of the novel. The main plot gets resolved and developed very well, sure, but the the little details on the sidelines aren’t developed further. This is also why I hope there will be sequels: some of those details and unanswered questions were very interesting, so maybe they’ll be developed further in later books.
Overall, A Tyranny of Queens is an amazing, five-star continuation of the story started in An Accident of Stars. Though the plot suffers somewhat from its faster pace that leaves many details and questions unaddressed and unanswered, everything else is of the same kind of quality and emotional impact that readers experienced in the first novel.
A Tyranny of Queens will be available on Amazon in a variety of formats starting May 2, 2017. Click on the title to pre-order.