Long May She Reign

I have spent the past day trying to convince myself that this was goodish.  I'm not even shooting for good--just relatively okay.  But I can't do it, and that saddens me.  A book with a logical, scientist queen deserves a better plot and more nuanced characterization that Long May She Reign.

I really enjoyed Rhiannon Thomas' debut novel, A Wicked Thing, which was a feminist retelling of Sleeping Beauty where the princess realizes that ugh, she does not have to marry some guy just because he kissed her.  Also: creepy.  So when I saw that Thomas had written a standalone book about a very unprepared queen who is also a scientist, I immediately requested it.  Alas.

Freya feels like an outsider.  Her mother, a beautiful, gracious, perfect woman, died years ago, and Freya's father is constantly trying to prove that he belongs at court, even though he started out as a merchant (horrors! A Poor!).  And she's just not interested in what other courtiers like.  Freya is a scientist, and has her own laboratory where she conducts experiments with the help of her best friend, Naomi, and her fluffy cat Dagny.  Dukes and Duchesses would much rather talk about the latest number of skirts a woman must wear to be fashionable (40?) than what happens when you mix sodium and water (do not do this).  So Freya moves about the periphery of the court, attending functions only when her presence is required by King Jorgen, her fourth cousin once removed.

Ah, the King.  A piece of work.  Egotistical and wasteful, his idea of a good time is holding lavish banquets and getting drunk on fine wine in fancy goblets.  Meanwhile, the peasants outside are starving and wallowing in mud.  I imagine everyone as the peasantry depicted in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

King Jorgen is hosting a spectacular banquet, and all the nobles of the kingdom of Epria have been summoned.  Freya has to attend.  Ugh.  Her skirt has thirty-two tiers and her waist is cinched and her hair won't hold a curl for anything, and falls flat (I relate, Freya).  The agony of making conversation with people whose brains are as empty as the kingdom's coffers prompts Freya to sneak out of the ball and back to her lab, accompanied by her best friend.  She's trying to figure out a way to create portable heat to keep hands warm without the danger of being barbecued.  Suddenly, her father barges in, completely panicked.

The entire royal court has been poisoned.  Despite being 23rd in line for the throne, Freya is now the Queen.  The King's bastard, William Fitzroy, cannot legally inherit, and honestly, doesn't seem to want to be King.  Only a handful of people survived the banquet murder, which was death by cake--seriously.  Everyone who ate the cake died a horrible death due to arsenic poisoning.  Unfortunately, no one can prove what kind of poison was used, because CSI: Epria is not an actual thing.  There is a lot of worrying about Freya getting through the coronation ceremony without being assassinated and/or totally screwing things up, but apart from falling over, she does a decent job.

This is the point where the action.  Just.  Stops.  We spend the rest of the book dithering around, maybe kind of trying to find poison, but also becoming totes BFFs with Madeleine Wolff, a noblewoman who happened to be at her countryside estate for a bout of melancholy.  Freya immediately rules Madeleine out as a suspect--after all, she's so kind!  So friendly!  Such a makeup guru!  Obviously, the Wolff estate has access to Eprian YouTube makeup tutorials.  Naomi completely disappears from the narrative, which honestly doesn't surprise me, because she's black.  Why have a black best friend when you can have a white one with honey brown hair?

And authors still claim that erasure of people of color is not an actual thing.  Ha.

There is also a very awkward romance between Freya and Fitzroy.  Freya panics incessantly about how no one could ever really love her, because she is ugly or something, and Fitzroy just spends time in the torture chambers that the new Queen has converted into a laboratory.  Yeah, he's definitely not stalking her.  Right?  Then she gets mad at him for keeping a secret (but honestly, it's not the worst secret he could have kept) and the book ends with them sort of not in love with each other because when you put your boyfriend in the dungeon, things get super awkward.  But Freya is mostly okay with this because she has a country to run!  Yeah, grrl power!

Oh, I forgot the part where Madeleine's cousin, Torsten Wolff (insert eyeroll here), tries to kill Freya, accuses her of the mass murder, and kidnaps Freya's dad.  This actually isn't awful because Freya's father is a real pill, so any scene without his snappish whingeing was automatically improved.  Unfortunately, Torsten gathers an army of nobles to march on the castle to unseat Freya, the murdering witch.  She banishes the army of dudes with spears, bows, and swords by setting off some fireworks and going "Wooooooo!  Woooooooo!"  I am not lying.

Long May She Reign was not entirely bad.  Freya's insecurity and ruminations on being an outsider were quite heartfelt, and I did like that her answer was to always turn to science to explain the inexplicable.  However, she also had the charisma of a clay brick, and the romance with Fitzroy was rather painful to read.

You can also play Fantasy Trope Bingo as you read the book.  We've got:

  • Girl who thinks she is plain but is actually gorgeous
  • Brooding love interest
  • an animal companion
  • a dead parent
  • a white protagonist
  • a rebellion/revolt
  • secret passageways
That's definitely a bingo right there.

This book had a lot of potential, particularly with its scientifically-minded protagonist, but it got lost in being a murder mystery, and a not very good one, at that.

In case you need a fantasy with a fantastic female protagonist who loves learning, try these:

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
The Serpent's Shadow by Mercedes Lackey
Shatterglass by Tamora Pierce
Jackaby by William Ritter
Cinder by Marissa Meyer

I received an ARC of this title from Edelweiss.


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