Review: The Vanished Queen by Lisbeth Campbell
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: 3 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Hardcover: Saga Press | Audiobook: Simon & Schuster Audio (August 18, 2020)
Length: HC: 496 pages | Audio: 14 hrs and 33 mins
A devastated city. A tyrant king. Then, Queen Mirantha vanished without a trace, and even though the official explanation for her disappearance was blamed on a neighboring kingdom, everyone knows the truth is that the cruel King Karolje Disappeared her himself.
Then, a student named Anza finds the journal of Mirantha in a forbidden library. Inspired by the queen’s words and driven by the wrongful execution of her father at the hands of the throne, she decides to join a rebel group to overthrow the king.
Karolje though, also has two sons. Tevin, the eldest and the heir, is prepared to one day step into his father’s shoes, but the prospect of keeping things the status quo does not sit well with him. His younger brother, Esvar, is likewise extremely against the brutal and oppressive rule of the king. Their mother Mirantha had sacrificed much to keep them safe, before Karolje took matters into his own hands.
Fates collide when Anza is arrested for her resistance activities, and her interrogator is none other than Esvar, who realizes they can help each other.
I thought The Vanished Queen was a solid book, and generally well-written. Which is why I’m so perplexed as to why I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should. If I had to guess, it had to do with the characterization. There are a lot of characters, and at times I felt like I needed a flow chart to keep me reminded of who everyone was. Most of them are either bland and dry as a piece of driftwood, or overdone to the extreme. King Karolje, for example, is the evilest evil person to ever do evil things, and the narrative never lets you forget that. Anza, for another, is a bisexual resistance fighter and she’s wicked smart, but that’s about it for her memorable traits. For me, there’s just something deeply, deeply wrong with that. Where’s the showing and not telling? Where’s the actual, meaningful character development?
For much of the first half, the pacing was also very slow. That didn’t hurt the book, necessarily, since there was so much happening to keep interest high. But as other reviewers have noted, The Vanished Queen is dialogue heavy. Expect lots of talk and not much action, and I found that if the novel ever caught me in a drab mood, I simply did not have the enthusiasm or inclination to read it for too long before needing to put it aside and pick up something with more kick. To its credit, the plot does pick up towards the end and I could hardly read the last few chapters fast enough. It made me glad I finished the book, but I also wished the pacing had been more balanced.
As for what the book did well, in spite of lackluster characters for the most part there were one or two points-of-view that stood out for me, Mirantha being the main example. Her story, detailed by her diary, was a fascinating thread throughout the novel, exploring her suffering at the hands of the king as well as the theme of unconditional love for her two sons. The princes’ personalities are a result of her influence; they see what their father has done to their kingdom and they want to stop it. Now they only need to be strong enough to see it all through, or risk losing everything.
Bottom line, I didn’t love this book, but I didn’t hate it either. The story was packed with intrigue and fascination, but it was also tragically weakened by uninspiring characters. I would recommend it for fantasy fans who are into palace politics and revolution plots, with the caveat that the amount of drama and lack of much action can make the reading a bit tedious, especially early on. On that point though, the amount of dialogue and the number of POVs might make this book a good choice for audio, if you are considering that format. With regards to the slower first half, a stronger second half makes up for it somewhat, but although readers got a satisfying ending, the surprises and revelations were still pretty predictable, with the kinds of twists you can see coming from miles away. The Vanished Queen therefore gets 3 stars from me—nothing more, nothing less.