Review: The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine

23495112Sixteen-year-old Elli was a small child when the Elders of Kupari chose her to succeed the Valtia, the queen who wields infinitely powerful ice and fire magic. Since then, Elli has lived in the temple, surrounded by luxury and tutored by magical priests, as she prepares for the day when the Valtia perishes and the magic finds a new home in her. Elli is destined 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, the 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 the love she has 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 align with the right side—before the kingdom and its magic are completely destroyed.

Rating: ★★★

This book was… underwhelming.

And again, I think it was because I was expecting a lot of it. It was a nice and a fast read (took me two days to read 400+ pages, which is a lot since I’m on summer break and I tend to read less when I have lots of free time. Go figure.), but it wasn’t… great.

The idea, the concept, though, is awesome: in a land where people can wield fire or ice magic, the queen, the Valtia, is the only one who can wield both. And she is powerful. The Kupari are (mostly) happy people thanks to her protection. But the power of both ice and fire magic always end up draining the Valtia, who dies young (and some times violently). The protagonist, Elli, is the Saadela, the girl who is supposed to replace, to become, the Valtia once the old queen dies. She’s been training for it her whole life, and being the new Valtia is everything she wants to be, everything she knows how to be… So when things go wrong her whole life shatters.

Elli is the reason this books managed to keep me entertained. She has been pampered her whole life, but when she actually has to work hard and fend for herself… she does, as best as she can. She grows a lot and learns a lot, and it was nice to see how she changed from a sheltered, naive princess into a more mature young woman.

The problem, though, is that she is the only character who is well developed in the book. Everyone else is kind of unidimensional, even her love interest, Oskar. Their romance didn’t work for me; I felt like their relationship was more told than showed, as in, we don’t actually see them growing from strangers to friends to lovers. Everything is told and it is boring.

(Yeah, I know. Show, don’t tell is old and everyone is tired of it, but there is a reason this is one of the most shared writing advices ever. It works.)

The character who bothered me the most was probably Sig, the powerful fire-wielder who lives (kinda) with the “criminals” Elli eventually finds. He’s almost cartoonish in his anger against the Elders, and the whole time he tried to convince his people to join his “cause” (destroying the temple, between other things) I felt like his speech, his whole character, wasn’t really built well. He didn’t sound convincing, but lots of people seemed to agree with him, even if they didn’t actually act on this feeling in the end.

And he has good points – the Elders keep anyone with magic in their temple (or at least everyone they find), and these people can’t leave. They don’t have a choice. Sig suffered on their hands and never got over it, and I don’t really think this is something bad. Some people just don’t get over some things, and when it comes to trauma it is shitty to ask them to do so just because.

So Sig is angry. And unfortunately his anger is, like I said, cartoonish, used more to make him the “bad guy” so Oskar could be shown in contrast as the good guy, the one who wants peace. It could’ve worked well, but it didn’t, not for me. It felt like the narrative was condemning Sig from the start, so every conflict involving him (and there were lots of them) ended up feeling cheap and predictable.

My second problem with The Impostor Queen is that the second act, the middle, is boring too. The beginning is really strong, and so is the end, but the middle dragged on and on forever. I wasn’t interested in anything that was happening, and the pace didn’t help.

In the end, it was really the middle that sunk this book for me – I was expecting something – mystery? action? I don’t know, anything – but what I got was Elli getting used to her live in the cave with the so called criminals. And that, while interesting when it comes to Elli’s growth, isn’t that exciting to read about for the gods know how many pages.

Notes on diversity: every single person is white. Elli, thought, is gloriously bisexual. Her first love interest is Mim, her handmaiden, and honestly I liked them better than Elli and Oskar, and Mim doesn’t show up that often (unfortunately).

In conclusionThe Impostor Queen is a good story. I liked it enough and I’ll probably read the sequel, but I’m not making any promises.


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