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REVIEW: The Queen’s Bastard by C.E. Murphy

Dear Ms. Murphy,

Your urban fantasy novels have failed to work for me in the past but I like giving authors second chances, especially when they expand into a favorite subgenre. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a political fantasy, and this book reminded me why I enjoy it.

Set in an alternate fantasy world modeled after historical Europe, The Queen’s Bastard follows the life of Belinda Primrose, the illegitimate daughter of Queen Lorraine of Aulun. Unacknowledged by her mother, Belinda was raised by her father, Robert Drake, to be an assassin and spy who serves Aulum by protecting her mother’s throne. Her latest mission brings her to Gallin, where she must find proof that the rival Queen Sandalia of Lanyarch and Lutetia is plotting to kill Lorraine in order to seize her throne. There, Belinda insinuates herself within the circle of friends belonging to Sandalia’s son, Javier, and soon discovers they have something in common: magic. As they learn to wield this mysterious witchpower together, Belinda, used to living her entire life serving the wishes and schemes of others, discovers she wants power for herself.

The first thing that struck me about this story is that all of the ruling figures are women. Lorraine, Sandalia, Ilyana (of Khazar). It’s rare to find a fantasy in which this is the case. Maybe one or two ruling female figures but three? All of whom rule the major countries depicted? That’s not something often found in this particular subgenre. In addition to Belinda, who works in the shadows and is a force to be reckoned with, there’s also the dangerous Countess Akilina who has motives of her own. I’m hard-pressed to think of another fantasy in which the major political players are women, and I found this refreshing.

While I wouldn’t consider Belinda to be a nice or sympathetic character 100% of the time, I found her story compelling. I admit the opening of Chapter 1 made me hesitate because it was a birthing scene, told from perspective of the baby of all things. There are some things even the best worldbuilding will never make me believe. It appears this is one of those things. Once I made it past that first scene, however, I found her coming of age interesting. Belinda has always sensed she was different, that there was a secret her father kept from her. It wasn’t until she met Javier that she realized it was magic. Belinda’s sudden exposure to her strong latent ability, more even more potent because she didn’t grow into it like Javier, is both a godsend and her downfall.

I’m particularly intrigued by the background players — the mages: Robert, Dmitri, and the still-unseen Seolfr. Why have they insinuated themselves into the major courts? Robert is father to Belinda. Dmitri is father to Ivanova. I don’t think it’s a coincidence these witchbreed offspring are being born of royal blood. And for that matter, who is Javier’s father? Is it the unknown Seolfr? Or is it another player entirely? I have a feeling this will come into play in future books. Witchbreed don’t seem to be in vast numbers, so I wonder if there is a plot to seize all of the major royal thrones and place them under witchbreed rule. Only speculation at this point, but I think it’s a possibility.

While not exactly a criticism, this book reads like the first installment of a longer saga. It contains a complete story, but I don’t think it stands alone very well. Like many other books in this subgenre, I believe the sequels will need to be read to fully enjoy the world and plotlines presented here.

Overall, I consider this a refreshing change from all the urban fantasy and paranormal romance I’ve been reading lately. It still features vivid, strong female characters but brings some of that traditional fantasy setting I sometimes miss. B-

My regards,

Jia

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells or ebook format. Note from Jane: Random House’s site says this book is available in ebook format, but I have yet to find a buy link which is frustrating because I want to buy the ebook.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

8 Comments

  1. carolyn Jean
    Apr 29, 2008 @ 17:29:18

    Ooh, thanks for the review. This sounds good. I also really prefer my stories to stand alone and feel finished, even if they’re episodes of a larger whole (I think the Kushiel saga is a great example of this being done well), but I really enjoyed Heart of Stone, so I am definitely going to go for this one.

  2. Liviania
    Apr 29, 2008 @ 17:57:41

    Hmm, political fantasy – one of my weaknesses hit by the first paragraph.

  3. Harry~DayDream
    Apr 30, 2008 @ 03:20:03

    Oh, I was eager to find out some reviews on this novel, since I am interested in Murphy’s worka nd the book is a recent release. I have to say that I am interested to see such a plot in a world that seems to be matriarchal in nature or at least evenly divided between the genders, with women players. I think this is so, because the arsenal of women to play dirty really ranges and since this is a political fantasy, some power struggle is inevitable.

    Great review.

  4. Stephanie Z.
    Apr 30, 2008 @ 09:26:35

    I can think of a political fantasy with a good deal of female characters: the Attolia books by Megan Whalen Turner. Two out of three countries are ruled by women — strong women, not puppets. The main character is male, true, but it seems to give a good balance.

    This one sounds interesting, though. I might pick it up.

  5. readerdiane
    May 03, 2008 @ 10:24:39

    I have enjoyed the C. E. Murphy’s Thunderbird Falls series and hope there will be more of them.

    I love fantasy books and this book certainly has that as a background rather than the paranormal. My only complaint is that I am having trouble keeping track of the characters and all of the places named. It is a richly complex book but no light read.

    I am actually writing down and keeping track of the cast of characters and where the action is taking place.Usually I love trying to figure out the rules in a fantasy but I am still a little lost here.I plan to finish the book today.

  6. Jia
    May 05, 2008 @ 18:44:45

    It does have the cast of thousand syndrome you often find in traditional fantasy. When I first finished this book, I remember thinking readers who wanted something like George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series but without the same enormous scope might be the best audience for it. But even so, I agree that it isn’t a light read.

  7. My First Sale: C.E. Murphy, There I Was, With The Chocolate-Chip Cookies… | Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews, and Commentary
    May 09, 2008 @ 04:01:10

    [...] has a million words in print. Born in Alaska and now living in Ireland, Murphy’s latest book, The Queen’s Bastard, is in bookstores [...]

  8. LG
    Jun 18, 2011 @ 15:53:17

    I know this review was written ages ago, but I can’t resist commenting. Looking around at other reviews and comments about this book, it seems I’m in the minority – I HATED this book. Absolutely hated it. I think part of my problem with it is that I am a very character-centric reader. I almost always have to like at least the main character of a book in order to like the book as a whole. It’s been a while since I’ve read this, but thinking about it still makes me shudder. After the bit with Belinda’s maid, nothing Belinda could have said or done could have redeemed her in my eyes. All I can say is that it was a good thing this wasn’t the first book I had ever read by Murphy, or I would have never wanted to try anything else by her. I really liked her Walker Papers books (and need to see if anything new has been written since the last book I read) and still have trouble believing that those were written by the same author who wrote The Queen’s Bastard.

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