YA Weekend: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons BYR (February 26, 2019)
Length: 432 pages
Wow, Four Dead Queens was pretty great, and if you’ve followed my reviews for a while, you probably know that’s not praise I bestow on YA too lightly, especially when it comes to debuts. Then again, it’s not often that I encounter a YA debut that completely takes me by surprise, which immediately made this one special—and I loved that it didn’t turn out the way I expected.
First of all, this story is really more of murder mystery—but with a twist. And there’s not much more I can say about that without spoiling the plot, but suffice it to say, it made things very interesting indeed. The book’s title refers to the four queens that rule the nation of Quadara, so named because it is divided into four quadrants, each boasting its own unique culture and specialties. Each queen is closely linked to the respective quadrant that she rules, governing the citizens within it with the help of a personal advisor. Queens are sequestered in their palace, never allowed to leave, and the only through death or abdication could they pass on their rule to an heir, who must be a daughter of their blood.
But what happens when a queen dies without an heir? This is the problem Quadara currently faces, with four queens on the throne who have yet to produce female issue—that anyone knows of, at least. And now they are being systematically targeted by a mysterious assassin, who seems bent on destroying the very foundation of the realm and its traditions.
Meanwhile in the Concord, a central area where the four sections of Quadara come together, a plucky thief named Keralie has unwitting stumbled upon a find of a lifetime. However, no great treasure ever comes without its dangers, which our hapless protagonist soon learns when the comm disks she’d managed to intercept are revealed to contain records of how all four queens are brutally murdered. Together with Varin, the messenger she originally stole her bounty from, Keralie must trace the origin and path of comm disks to discover the identity of those conspiring against Quadara and stop their plot before it’s too late.
Perhaps my favorite thing about Four Dead Queens was the story, which isn’t always the strongest aspect of a YA novel. There’s a tendency in this genre to retread common plot tropes, and for me, those books usually end up in the forgettable pile after a few months. Astrid Scholt’s debut, however, was different. While political machinations and threat of death at court are certainly not new ideas, the author chose a very bold and unique way to frame these themes in her novel, and only time will tell if her ambitious move pays off, but it sure worked wonders for yours truly. I loved how the main plot was told through Keralie’s eyes, but that the queens also got a chance to tell their side of the story. And even though more POVs often lead to pacing problems and confusion, I didn’t think that was the case here. In fact, I felt their queens’ part in it only added to the overall depth of the narrative, providing details in a way that wouldn’t have been quite as interesting or effective had they been revealed any way else.
The world-building was also fascinating, even if it wasn’t perfect. While I liked the idea of the four quadrants of Quadara being separate and different culturally and ideologically—e.g. Toria values intellect and education, Ludia values pleasure and entertainment, Archia values the natural world and is inclined towards a simpler lifestyle, and Eonia values logic, science, and technology—none of it really makes sense on a deeper level, and the systems in which they operate are superficial to the point of being absurd. Thankfully, the bulk of this story takes place within the palace and doesn’t venture much beyond, or I probably would have taken greater issue with this facile, all-or-nothing approach to world-building. One must simply accept this is the way of Quadara, and that somehow everything miraculously runs smoothly despite little to no explanation into how inter-quadrant relationships work or what the queens actually do to govern their country.
There were a few other minor issues, mostly related to how time was presented in this story because of the way it was written, but they weren’t enough to detract from my overall enjoyment. The overarching plot was really the main drive behind the novel, which kept me engaged and turning the pages. All in all, I thought the plot of Four Dead Queens was a refreshing change from a lot of the typical YA I’ve been reading as of late, and I found the characters and the mystery entertaining. It’s also a standalone that ties up quite nicely, but even though there will be no sequel to anticipate, that doesn’t mean I won’t be looking forward to Astrid Scholt’s future projects with interest. She’s got my attention now, and I’ll be keeping my eye out for what she writes next.