The Queens of Innis Lear is a fantasy retelling of King Lear.
It begins with the birth of an island, with one of the most breathtaking prologues I’ve read in a while. It draws you in, and you’ll need that, because this may be a well-written story with multilayered characters and intricate political dynamics, but it’s also a very slow tome of almost 600 pages and the retelling of a tragedy.
I decided to read this because I loved Tessa Gratton’s Before She Was Bloody story in the anthology Three Sides of a Heart. The main strengths of The Queens of Innis Lear are the one I expected: clear, lyrical writing, complex worldbuilding and characters I cared deeply for. I would read more set in this world torn between star worship and root magic, forever searching a balance; I want to see more descriptions of cities and castles and old rootwater wells – this story may be a tragedy, but this is one of the most beautiful fantasy worlds I’ve ever seen. And even when the characters and their bad decisions frustrated me, I understood their motivations.
The Queens of Innis Lear is the story of a mad king, his three daughters and heirs to the throne, and a young man – a bastard, a fox, a witch – who is returning to Innis Lear after a long exile in Aremoria. It’s mainly a story about politics and family, character-driven, and I believed in these characters’ relationship and rivalries. I liked almost all of them, even the ones who kept betraying everything and everyone who came in their way.
This book is not, however, without its weaknesses. There were many unnecessary scenes, flashbacks and even some unnecessary PoVs, which definitely didn’t help the already slow pacing. This is probably the slowest novel I’ve read this year, and just like most books over 500 pages, it could – should – have been shorter.
I loved the diversity, as this is about three biracial black princesses and there are many casual mentions of main and side characters being bisexual, but I really did not like what this book did with Gaela’s character. She is the elder sister, she’s heavily coded as aromantic asexual, and she is every single aromantic and asexual stereotype ever. She’s described as cold and heartless, she disdains everything that has to do with sex or romance and feels no emotions but anger. It was unnecessary, and she was probably the weakest character in the whole story; her PoV was very monotonous.
One of the things I loved the most about this book was the ending. It’s been a long time since a book made me really believe the main characters were in danger, and it also delivered – just like in King Lear, the ending is not happy, but I thought it was perfect, not as hopeless as it could have been.
My rating: ★★★½