Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to conduct an Author Interview with J.M Robison in relation to her first published book, The War Queen. Today I am thrilled to be publishing my review! Before we begin, if you are yet to take a look at the interview, I would recommend you do!
***I was very kindly provided with a free copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review. All the opinions stated below are my own ***
Altarn is the first woman to hold the position of State Head in Blindvar. When Lord Kaelin, State Head of Ruidenthall, propositions her to merger with their states, Altarn believes it’s his subtle way of taking her state for his own, making himself king. On the cusp of war, she rides in disguise to her last ally, Luthsinia, to ask for help.
During her journey, Altarn is ambushed but rescued by a man called Torren who offers her protection. Quickly they realize they share a mutual attraction. Upon their arrival to Luthsinia, Altarn receives news that an army has invaded Blindvar in her absence and blames Kaelin. Except it’s not Kaelin’s army, because she discovers Kaelin is in Luthsinia for the purpose of spying on her to take her land. And Torren is not who she thought he was.
Taking advantage of the unraveling situation, Kaelin kidnaps Altarn so he can take her state without her in the way and brings her to Ruidenthall. There’s a war ship on the horizon, led by a fallen angel craving mortal worship. Kaelin realizes he needs Altarn’s help to fight this army if he’s to save his state. She’s forced to agree, but how will she react when he’s wounded in battle? If she lets him die, can she fight the enemy on her own? Or if she saves his life, will he still try claiming her state, or try claiming her heart?
Having read a sample of the first chapter I knew that Altarn’s character and her position as State Head was going to be something that interested me a lot. I don’t think I need to go into the many debates about gender equality that are out there at the moment. I’m sure you see it all the time, be it on social media or the news etc. I knew this book was going to intrigue me because I wanted to see how the fictional society of this book adapted to the change of power being in the hands of a female in comparison with what we experience in reality. I was also keen to understand how Altarn coped with the difficulties, prejudice and the challenges to her credibility experienced.
Altarn believes Kaelin, the Lord of Ruidenthall is set upon taking her land, however her council do not believe her when she brings this matter to their attention. Having had countless letters ignored and fearing the worst for her state, she sets out to neutral Luthsinia to gain the aid necessary to fend off the impending attack. As it happens, Altarn’s concern over Kaelin’s actions are the least of her concerns and ultimately, the two sides join forces to eradicate an unforeseen threat.
I found Altarn to be a remarkably developed character – in a lot of ways, I felt I could relate to her emotionally. In the first chapter we see Altarn arrive at her State Manor, clearly enraged and she quite humourously lashes out at a training target with the name of the man who told her “You have to ride the horse before you buy it. Because if you buy it first, you may find out later it limps”. Her behaviour is entirely relatable to us mere mortals (well, at least to me anyway), however, it is not the behaviour expected of a woman in her position – and especially not in public. This scene really introduces Altarn’s character and sets her development arc for the remainder of the book.
As Altarn travels to Luthsinia undercover to request aid, she ends up travelling with a young man who protects her on the road from a band of men who have less than polite intentions. Altarn perceives herself to be more than capable of defending herself, having served in the army and intends to face the threat single-handedly. As a result of this unknown man leaping to her defence, she feels irritated that she was perceived to have needed help. Despite her obvious resentment, Altarn sees the sense of safety in numbers and continues to travel with the young man, albeit distrustfully. I cannot help but wonder if this scenario is something JM has drawn on her army experience for. Is Altarn’s circumstance (real or perceived – I’ll allow my lack of experience to keep me sitting on the fence) of feeling or being treated as the inferior sex something experienced in the army?
With the novel written in the first person narrative from the perspective of Altarn, we get to really understand the way she is thinking and feeling. I can speak now, as a woman, when I say that a lot of her emotional struggles are perfectly relatable. As she rebounds from Jessom and begins to “admire” her mysterious co-traveller, this isn’t a spontaneous reaction just for the purpose of plot developing. What I am trying to say is… it’s a perfectly natural reaction. Altarn is forced to mature and reign in these feelings as she comes to terms with the political turmoil she has to endure for the safety of her people, although this is a great struggle for her.
I’m glad now that I have gotten to this point. If there was any element of the book I wasn’t sure I was going to like, it was the relationship between Altarn and Lord Kaelin. As a rule, books with too much emphasis on relationship struggles are a turn off for me. Regardless of my feelings on the matter, allow me to be clear that the tumultuous relationship between these two powers is a quintessential element of both the plot and the development of each of these characters. I was pleasantly surprised that despite the reasonably high dependence the plot has on the relationship, I didn’t feel alienated from the characters involved – if anything it serves a reminder of just how human they are.
I also love how the book concluded. I am not going to spoil it for you, but what I will say is this… It could have been easy for the book to end in a very typical, fairytale manner. Allow me to say I am glad it didn’t. The characters are far more sophisticated than that and I am glad that shows.
I also enjoyed the developed and consistent historical background of the fantastical realm, which is introduced when relevant throughout the book. It is a danger for the reader to be the victim of “info-dumps” when the author has to explain a lot of history and context in fantasy worlds created, but I can honestly say I didn’t feel overwhelmed at any point.
In my opinion, The War Queen is an enjoyable read for all lovers of the fantasy genre. Whilst there are examples of common themes such as war (obviously), religion, (including angels and demons etc), to my mind it has been done in such a way as to set it apart from the common reiterations of the same ideas regularly seen in the genre.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my review! If you would like to learn any more about JM Robison or The War Queen, please follow any of the below links:-
Also a little reminder that there is a live Facebook event on Saturday in celebration of the book’s first birthday. If you would like to join in, here is the link – hopefully we will see you there.