Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Review: The Queen's Poisoner by Jeff Wheeler



2016  336 pages (eBook)  47North

Fantasy novels aren’t usually the kind of books I tend to go for, but when I read the premise for The Queen’s Poisoner I was interested to find out more so I downloaded a copy to my Kindle. As it turns out, it was a good shout because I really enjoyed it. It’s well written, well-paced, and it was exactly the kind of book I was looking for at the time. An easy read that isn’t too complex but also doesn’t plod or drag.

So, the plot: Owen Kiskaddon is the youngest son of the Duke of Kiskaddon, the latter of whom is accused of treason and so must hand over one of his children to the King to act as a hostage. Eight-year-old Owen is sent to the palace at Kingfountain where he must learn to survive and elude the King’s spies, all whist fearing the wrath of ruthless, and possibly murderous, King Severn. It is a mysterious woman, known as the Queen’s Poisoner, who vows to help Owen by assisting him in gaining the King’s favour and proving his worth, something that will prove vital when Lord Kiskaddon is again accused of betraying the realm, leaving Owen’s live to hang precariously in the balance.

Child narrators are tricky and reading novels told from this perspective normally make me a little hesitant, especially with books that aren’t in a contemporary setting. I find they tend to be unreliable and not characterised as well as adult protagonists, but I managed to see past that with this book. The story was enjoyable and Owen turned out to be a clever and intuitive character, despite him being clouded with a childish awkwardness. There are a few moments like this: *gasp* "She just spoke back to him! To an adult! Can you believe it?!" Owen gets tongue tied around the King a lot of the time, but I can’t say I blame him because he comes across a pretty intimidating kind of guy.

The novel itself is classed as fantasy, but the reading experience felt like historical fiction and I know exactly why. From just the first few chapters I could sense strong parallels between this story and the War of the Roses – the hunchbacked uncle accused of murdering his nephews and claiming the throne for himself was a clear giveaway, so I didn’t even need to get to the Author’s Note at the end to learn the influence behind the book. It kind of felt like an alternate history retelling of what could have happened had Richard III won the Battle of Bosworth and not Henry Tudor, with of course elements of fantasy mixed in. This in itself is an interesting premise but I’m glad Wheeler decided to write a fantasy novel rather than an outright historical fiction retelling, because this works really well and I actually found the magical elements and the world building to be subtle, yet intriguing.

This isn’t the kind of high fantasy you get from Game of Thrones, but the history behind the Kingdom of Ceredigion and the magical power of the Fountain/Fountain Blessed people, was all really interesting and well thought out. As I said, I don’t read a lot of fantasy but this was a nice balance for me. Magic obviously exists and everyone knows about it, but it’s rare and Wheeler weaves in to the story delicately.

As a whole, the novel is clear and clean cut. It’s full of espionage and plotting and Wheeler shows you can write an exciting narrative without any explicit violence or sex needed. I whizzed through this in a couple of days and it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Overall rating: 
4 stars

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