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Jane Kindred

REVIEW: The Fallen Queen by Jane Kindred

REVIEW: The Fallen Queen by Jane Kindred

Dear Ms. Kindred,

A few months ago, I read your Carina Press novella, The Devil’s Garden, and enjoyed it quite a bit. It reminded me somewhat of a cross between Storm Constantine and Jacqueline Carey, which I thought was a good and interesting mix. I also liked that your characters fell outside the usual gender binary and heteronormative boundaries so when I heard you had a full-length novel coming out, I made sure to put it on my list. And even though I was less than enthused when I saw the cover (to say the least), I decided to follow the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” This is definitely one of those cases.

The Fallen Queen	Jane KindredThe Fallen Queen tells the story of Anazakia Helisonova, the bored daughter of the ruling imperial family of heaven. As should come as no surprise, Anazakia finds the trappings and social airs of royalty boring. She’d rather spend her time in heaven’s equivalent to slums where she gambles away her riches. It’s here that she meets a demon named Belphagor who takes her for all she’s worth.

But the loss of her valuables takes an immediate backseat when disaster strikes. On that very night, her family’s rule over heaven is usurped. Even worse, her family is massacred by someone they trusted. It’s only through a bit of magic, and trickery that Anazakia is alive. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like she’ll stay that way for long, especially once her family’s assassins realize she’s still alive.

If readers are having some deja vu, there’s a reason for that. Anazakia’s story mirrors the story of Russia’s Anastasia Nikolaevna. And this isn’t some veiled reference; they’re explicitly linked in the novel. The Fallen Queen is essentially epic fantasy set in modern day Russia. I found this interesting because you normally don’t see fantasy that does this. There’s epic fantasy set in secondary fantasy worlds. There’s urban fantasy set on modern-day earth. We do occasionally see portal fantasies where people from modern day Earth go into a fantasy land or urban fantasies where the city setting is a secondary, constructed one, but I don’t think I’ve seen this particular mix in a long time. I found it refreshing and I suspect readers with a stronger background in Russian culture would get more out of it than I did. I don’t think a lack of knowledge will hinder comprehension, but I think some would enrich the reading experience.

I liked that Anazakia matures throughout the book. It is in many ways a coming of age story. She starts off as a clueless noble who had no idea of the turmoil surrounding her father’s rule. Yes, it’s true that ignorance is a sign of immense privilege but at the same time I do sympathize because if you’re wrapped in a coccoon, how could you possibly know what’s going on outside your immediate sphere? But as the story unfolds, she learns about the world and how both her own and her family’s actions lead to her current circumstances.

I’m pretty ambivalent about Anazakia’s relationship with the two demons, Belphagor and Vasily. I liked that it didn’t simplify the complicated nuances and that the relationship between Belphagor and Vasily didn’t get shunted aside once Anazakia came into the picture. Given The Devil’s Garden, I expected a varied presentation of sexualities and we got that, which was good. On the other hand, I did find the one character announcing that he was asexual to be somewhat out of the blue. Maybe if there’d been more build-up or actual on-page hints that he thought Anazakia was interested in him, I wouldn’t have that impression. It just seemed like it was thrown in there for the sake of including an asexual character.

On the other hand, despite Anazakia’s maturation as a character, I found her to be reactive rather than proactive for a good portion of the book. I realize that’s to be expected given that she’s on the run from assassins but I did find that her choices and actions to be overshadowed by Belphagor somewhat.

I normally don’t care for stories involving angels but I did like this take on it. The introductory notes on the worldbuilding were overwhelming and I quickly forgot them once I started reading, but the presentation was easy to pick up within context for me and I liked how some of the angels — particularly the ones sent after Anazaki and the guys — were depicted. They captured the idea of angels that were awesome and terrible in their beauty and power.

I do wish I’d gotten a better handle on the antagonist. Even at the end, she strikes me as being evil for the sake of being evil. That’s okay for some stories but since so much else of the novel has nuance, the villain definitely stands out as being two-dimensional by comparison. She’s power-hungry, murderous, and brainwashes people. I’m not asking for her to redeemed or anything, especially after everything she did, but maybe a little quality to make her less 2D.

In the end, I found The Fallen Queen to be an enjoyable read. It’s a fresh take on the hidden heir trying to recover the stolen throne despite all the references and historical events it bases itself on. I’m looking forward to the next installment. I just hope it gets a better cover. B

My regards,
Jia

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What Jia’s Been Reading, Late November

What Jia’s Been Reading, Late November

Apparently a vacation was exactly what I needed to kick me out of my reading funk. Here’s what I’ve been reading the past couple of weeks.

Steampunk! edited by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant
An anthology of steampunk stories that covers the spectrum. I like the variety of settings, characters, genres, and ideas but overall, there were only a couple standouts. On the other hand, there were only a couple stories I didn’t like. The rest were average. That tends to be about right in terms of how well anthologies work for me. I rarely love every single selection for an anthology. I just wish I could have discovered new authors I’d love to seek out rather than confirming what I already know. (Full review)

Open Minds by Susan Quinn A | BN | S | K
This is my first foray into the world of self-published YA fiction but it worked out well. It’s a SF novel in which due to mutations, humans have become telepathic. Unfortunately, this sucks for anyone who isn’t telepathic, such as the novel’s protagonist. It’s action-packed and there’s a lot of plot. Not a whole lot of the emo introspection you usually find in YA so if you’re looking for a change, this might be worth a try. Lots of good ideas and I definitely liked how the SF aspects were worked into this, showing how society changed with everyone becoming telepathic. Full review to come.

Hot as Hades by Alisha Rai
I felt like I’d been reading nothing but YA and fantasy for a while, so I wanted a change. I remembered January reviewing this a couple weeks ago and decided to give it a try since I was in the mood for a quick read. I’m a big fan of the Hades and Persephone myth despite all the twistedness about it. I enjoyed this and the whole uncle and adopted niece reminders didn’t really bother me. True, the tone was more modern than not but I guess in my head, they were still gods and I let it go.

Burning Skies by Caris Roane
I’ve had this one in my TBR pile for a while after joining the circle of shame several months ago and reading the first book, Ascension. I suppose I needed a crack replacement after giving up on the Black Dagger Brotherhood. Since the Alisha Rai novella put me in the mood for a full-length romance, I pulled this up on my Fire. I actually really enjoyed this a lot. As Jane mentioned in her review, this isn’t a cracky as its predecessor. I was a little surprised by that. I don’t think it’s entirely because I was inured to the badness so I’m not sure what the difference was. Did the writing improve? Or was the plot just not as over the top? The jury’s still out on that and now I have to get the next installment.

The Fallen Queen by Jane Kindred | A | BN |K | S
I made a note to read this after having enjoyed “The Devil’s Garden,” the novella Kindred wrote for Carina. As I’m coming learn, the beginning of Kindred’s works and I never get along. This time, I was presented with several pages of social hierarchy for the worldbuilding with lots of names and locations, and I was seriously wondering what I was getting into. But I made an effort to forget the glossary and just read the book, which worked out much better. (After I finished the novel, I went back and looked at the glossary and that was much easier to take since I had context.) As for the novel itself, it’s hard to describe in a few sentences. It’s sort of an angelic retelling (mirroring, really) of the Anastasia story in which the ruling angelic family is usurped and everyone is slaughtered except for one survivor who’s hidden in the world of men by a pair of demons. It’s very much an epic fantasy (and reads that way) but also takes place in modern times. It draws quite a bit on Russian lore and for the first time in quite a while, there’s a Faerie character who actually demonstrates how beautiful, frightening and disturbing the Fae can be. Overall, an enjoyable read for people wanting a little something different in their fantasy. Full review to come.

Currently, I’m reading Shaedes of Gray by Amanda Bonilla, which is either an urban fantasy or paranormal romance. I’m not completely sure which it’s supposed to be or if it’s a hybrid. It’s going all right so far. There are some parts I like and some parts that really annoy me. The big question in my mind, however, is why are there so many redheaded assassins?

So what about you guys? Read any of these? What did you think? Are the holidays, past and upcoming, treating you well in terms of reading time or has it been a struggle?