The Impostor Queen
Elli is perfectly positioned to be the heroine her country (and a YA fantasy novel) needs. Beautiful, with curly red hair and ice-blue eyes? Check. Fortuitously semi-complete prophecy that she will be the greatest and most powerful mage queen of all time? Check. Adolescent onset of fantastical powers? Actually, no. Although Elli is the destined heiress of magic held by the queen, the magic fails to come to Elli when the current queen dies. Elli goes from sheltered heiress to outcast overnight.
The defining characteristic of Elli (a first person narrator) is her curiosity, which is a nice trait in a heroine. She is pragmatic about her future (queens, called Valtia, die young in the exercise of their power) and, while not fatalistic, she embraces the idea of sacrifice to serve her people and looks forward to doing good with unmatched power. I think many teens would relate to that (“If only people would let us rule the world, and not those idiot adults!”). Discovering that the prophecy is false is an interesting way to challenge her identity. I thought her multifaceted reaction – denial, determination, depression – felt authentic.
The problem is that after this brief stretch of ordinary-ness, lasting no more than a couple of chapters, Elli goes into exile and meets an old man who undoes the whole thing. He tells her that the incomplete prophecy actually said that she’s incredibly powerful, just not through the inheritance of Valtia magic. So despite the heavy marketing and blurb-ing of this book, down to the title, as “finally, a YA protagonist who’s not phenomenally special,” we end up with – a book about a protagonist who’s phenomenally special. As books about prophesied, gifted heroines go, it’s a solid one, but the marketing is quite the bait-and-switch.
In terms of action, I enjoyed the book and kept turning pages, but I can’t deny that it’s formulaic. The book hits all the classic plot points, right up to the conspiracy of authority figures and the upending of the social order.The supporting characters are interesting, if also archetypal: the loyal servant, the hotheaded fire wielder, the restrained ice wielder, the mysterious old mystic who conveniently disappears before he can give all the answers and spoil the tension.
Elli’s sexuality is the most original aspect of the book. At the temple, before her exile, she is attracted to her loyal female handmaiden Mim. As an outcast, she falls for her rescuer, the ice wielder Oskar. The matter-of-factness with which this is mentioned is refreshing (Elli simply realizes that she enjoys Oskar’s touch the way she enjoyed Mim’s, without worrying about labels like lesbian or straight, and there is no implication that orientation matters in this fantasy setting). Her relationship with Mim does not go beyond touching, and her relationship with Oskar is kisses only. The book does not fully resolve the plot or the relationship (which has yet another prophecy hanging over it), so I expect that there will be a sequel.
I love YA fantasy, and of course as a romance fan, I can enjoy something based on a formula. But to be a DIK, a book has to be more than a solid execution of the usual. The Impostor Queen is an engaging and quick read, and I definitely enjoyed it. However, it didn’t stand out enough for me to feel the need to make room on my keeper shelf for it.