Book Review: A Queen in Hiding by Sarah Kozloff
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
Series: Book 1 of The Nine Realms
Publisher: Tor Books (January 21, 2020)
Length: 496 pages
Oh, I can already tell this series is going to be one fantastic journey, not to mention now I have a much better understanding of why Tor Books has chosen to publish all four installments in quick succession, over the next few months. A Queen in Hiding is a solid novel, but it is also very clearly just the opening chapter of a much bigger, more comprehensive, powerful and important saga, and I have a feeling readers will appreciate the short wait to get their hands on book two while their blood is still up, events still fresh on their mind.
But here’s what it’s all about: A Queen in Hiding kicks off a new fantasy series called The Nine Realms by debut author Sarah Kozloff. While the book’s description focuses on Cérulia, Princess of a land called Weirandale, the story actually begins with her mother Queen Cressa and the events that lead to her eventual exile. Throughout history, the women of the royal family have always been gifted with a “talent” by the spirit worshiped by the people of Weirandale. This typically manifests as a supernatural ability well before a girl turns eight, which is why Queen Cressa is growing frustrated and concerned because it appears her young daughter has yet to display any powers.
However, the truth is, Cérulia does have a talent—a very rare and useful one, though no one seems to realize it. When she tells others that she can talk to animals— and that they even talk back!—everyone simply dismisses her claims as a child’s fanciful imagination. Except one day, that power ends up saving Cérulia’s life and her mother’s. The incident is a wake-up call for Cressa, who realizes war has come to Weirandale’s doorstep, and that she is no longer safe at the palace which is crawling with traitors and spies. Cressa decides to flee the country, but not before hiding her daughter with a family of peasants. Next, the exiled queen heads for the ocean, where she plans on biding her time until she is strong enough to repel the invaders from Weirandale and retake her throne. After all, she’d promised Cérulia that she will return for her one day—but for now, the safest place for the girl is in hiding.
While what I am about to say is not meant to be disparaging in any way, A Queen in Hiding does seem to have the feel of a prologue—and a very long one at that. By the end of the book, it becomes indubitably clear this is a story about Cérulia, but of course, the bulk of it is also about her mother, Cressa. Once you start reading it though, you’ll start to understand why the author decided to tell the story this way, beginning with a strong foundation that not only sets up where Cérulia came from, but also why circumstances have forced her into an unpleasant situation. Furthermore, this allows for plenty of world-building, giving readers a chance to learn more about the ways of Weirandale, including the people’s reverence for nature spirits and the importance of talents bestowed on their queens. War plays a big role in the novel too, and Cressa’s chapters also serve to give us a rundown of the political climate and the reasons her reign is such a mess, opening her up to threats of treason and invasion.
If I’m making the novel sound like a lot of world-building and setup, well, that’s because it is. Considering that it’s nearly five hundred pages long, admittedly not a whole lot actually happens in it, with the bulk of the activity hitting us in a flurry closer to the end, yet the whole thing could still probably be summed up in a handful of sentences. And yet, therein lies the brilliance of this book. Kozloff packs a mighty amount of info into A Queen in Hiding, but even the meatiest concepts are made interesting and effortlessly simple to understand, perfectly spread out and well-paced across the entire novel. Rather than feel like I was being inundated with detail, I felt like I was absorbing all that I needed to know from the background, the way I would while watching a movie play out in front of me. Which is why, despite much of the novel feeling like one long intro, I can’t say I really minded at all.
Of course, it helped having some great characters. On the whole, I thought the book really started to take off once we reached an important turning point, which occurred around the halfway mark. This led to a sort of transformation for both Cressa and Cérulia, so that they each came into their own in their respective ways. Cressa became the leader she’d always meant to be, fending off pirates with her dashing sea-faring husband, and it was glorious. I could read about her battles on the high seas all day, but alas, all good things must come to an end. What’s more poignant and intense though, is the way Cérulia changes. Adopting a new identity, going from princess to peasant, she alone knew the truth of her mother’s plans. In this period of loneliness, she only had her animal friends to turn to for comfort amidst her losses, and I’m curious to see where the story will take her talent, especially since I have a feeling it will play a big role in her future.
In sum, all great intros leave you excited and impatient to know more, and this is definitely the mindset A Queen in Hiding has put me in. Now that my appetite’s been whetted, I’m hooked and hungry to dig into the meat of this series, so I expect you’ll be seeing me review the next book quite soon, given the quick release schedule of these books. Here’s hoping it’ll be just as enjoyable.