Title: The Impostor Queen (2016)
Author: Sarah Fine
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Extent: 432 pages
Release Date: January 6, 2016
Sixteen-year-old Elli was only a child when the Elders of Kupari chose her to succeed the Valtia, the queen who wields infinitely powerful ice and fire magic in service of her people. The only life Elli has known has been in the temple, surrounded by luxury, tutored by magic-wielding priests, preparing for the day when the queen perishes—and the ice and fire find a new home in Elli, who is prophesied to be the most powerful Valtia to ever rule.
But when the queen dies defending the kingdom from invading warriors, the magic doesn’t enter Elli. It’s nowhere to be found.
Disgraced, Elli flees to the outlands, home of banished criminals—some who would love to see the temple burn with all its priests inside. As she finds her footing in this new world, Elli uncovers devastating new information about the Kupari magic, those who wield it, and the prophecy that foretold her destiny. Torn between her love for her people and her growing loyalty to the banished, Elli struggles to understand the true role she was meant to play. But as war looms, she must choose the right side before the kingdom and its magic are completely destroyed.
I gotta say, I love the concept of an impostor queen. I really enjoy anyone playing pretend as a general rule (see: my obsession with pretend relationships), and I love it when characters are torn between choices they have to make. The Impostor Queen, judging by the blurb, has both these things and thus is right up my alley. 🙂
And it didn’t disappoint. This is a story about a queen who is more of a slave, one trapped between what she was raised to believe and the realities of her situation. I have to hand it to Sarah Fine: she didn’t shy away from putting her main character through hell and back. Believe me when I say I freaked out a little bit at some parts because I really hated seeing Elli suffer, and it was a hell of a suffering at times.
Now I really liked Elli, so it wasn’t a surprise that I also enjoyed her voice. She was strong, she was stubborn, and she was determined to do right by her people, so ready to sacrifice herself. She was also flawed, so used to accepting things without doubt that confronting her reality didn’t come so naturally to her. She stumbled more than a few times and she questioned herself and what she knew, but she was also brave and courageous.
The other characters were also (mostly) a pleasure to read about. I loved Mim, Elli’s handmaiden and pretty much the only real person who truly cared about her at the beginning of the book. I loved the current Valtia for her gentleness, her strength and her devotion to her people, even in the face of horror:
“Our lives aren’t ours, darling,” she murmured. “We are only the caretakers of this magic. We don’t use it to protect ourselves—we use it only to protect the Kupari. They call us queens, but what we really are is servants.”
The plot also captivated me straight from the beginning. Fine is a master of setting the stage without giving an info-dump in the middle of the story, and there was rarely a dull moment. Admittedly, I’m not good at guessing plot twists but each revelation came to me as a surprise, and when we learned a bit more about the history of the Kupari, it came as a horror-filled shock to me and left that (much wanted) sickening feeling in my stomach.
The magic system was interesting and behaved like fictional magic systems ought to: it wasn’t all-powerful, it had limitations, and it wasn’t the end all and be all of everything, so it made dire situations seem, well, dire. I think it was also the nature of the characters—I wasn’t ever sure who’s good and who’s bad until the very end, so I was kept guessing for at least 80% of the book.
“Remember who you are. Realize what you are. Do both those things, or you’ll either be completely useless-or too dangerous to help anyone.”
My only major criticism is that the pace slowed down a little bit during the middle, when Elli was in the outlands. The romance came into play a bit more, and while I liked Oskar, Elli’s love interest, I have to say that I didn’t particularly care whether or not they’ll end up together — I just wanted Elli to be safe and happy, with or without him.
Equipped with an interesting, likeable protagonist and an unpredictable cast of supporting characters, and an intense plot, The Impostor Queen was highly entertaining. Recommended for YA fantasy fans in general! 🙂