Book: “Long May She Reign” by Rhiannon Thomas
Publication Info: HarperTeen, February 2017
Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!
Book Description: Freya was never meant be queen. Twenty third in line to the throne, she never dreamed of a life in the palace, and would much rather research in her laboratory than participate in the intrigues of court. However, when an extravagant banquet turns deadly and the king and those closest to him are poisoned, Freya suddenly finds herself on the throne.
Freya may have escaped the massacre, but she is far from safe. The nobles don’t respect her, her councilors want to control her, and with the mystery of who killed the king still unsolved, Freya knows that a single mistake could cost her the kingdom – and her life.
Freya is determined to survive, and that means uncovering the murderers herself. Until then, she can’t trust anyone. Not her advisors. Not the king’s dashing and enigmatic illegitimate son. Not even her own father, who always wanted the best for her, but also wanted more power for himself.
As Freya’s enemies close in and her loyalties are tested, she must decide if she is ready to rule and, if so, how far she is willing to go to keep the crown.
Review: Everything about this book description sounded like something that would be right up my alley. And other than a bit of confusion about the genre (fantasy?), I was not disappointed!
Freya is 20-something in line to the throne, but after a mass poisoning, somehow queenship still manages to fall on her shoulders. Now, not only does she, a natural introvert who only wants to work on her science experiments, have to figure out how to rule a country, but she needs to unravel the mystery behind the poisoning before she’s next. No killer would set out to put her on the throne, after all!
This was such a simple story, and I loved it for this very reason! Within the framework of a political drama, Freya herself is allowed to shine as the unique heroine she is. Often we’re presented with this archetypal character arc: shy wallflower through plot devices learns she’s super special and beautiful and ends the book as the bad-ass she was truly meant to be, thus shedding all of her original shyness. I’ve never liked or bought this story arc for a character. As an introvert myself, that’s just not how it works, and I’m kind of offended whenever having a quieter disposition is presented as something that must be “overcome” to become the bad-ass warrior in the end. And it has been well-documented on this blog that I love me some bad-ass women characters! But that doesn’t mean that every character should become this!
Freya’s journey is not to become a better person by the end, but to truly appreciate that the changes she brings to the country as a different ruler with different strengths, manners, and priorities is ultimately just what it might need. Mental health is a subject that is brought up a few times in this book, both for Freya who suffers from anxiety attacks and for another noble lady whom Freya quickly befriends who suffers from some form of depression. While neither of these subjects were tackled in any depth, neither character was demonized for the way that they chose to deal with their own mental health and the fact that they each needed to make its management a priority in their own way. For Freya, this meant the comfort of straightforward and logical scientific research.
Given this connection to Freya’s anxiety, I appreciated that her research wasn’t simply set up in the beginning as “oh, here’s a special thing about her to make her stand apart from all the other fantasy YA heroines but doesn’t actually play any part in the story” but as an aspect of Freya’s character that is continually reinforced throughout the story. Not only does she use her knowledge and abilities to solve the mystery, but we see how she will continue to make room for this important aspect of herself as a ruler going forward. Science is her retreat and her method for calming her mind, and I loved that this was so fully embraced. Further, the characters who are important to her embrace this as well. Not only appreciating that Freya is always going to make scientific research a priority in her life and one that they will have to live aside, but actually joining her and learning from her.
These side characters were also key to my enjoyment of the novel. The cast is a manageable size, both small enough that I felt like I was able to get to know many of them well, but also large enough to hold up the mystery itself with several viable suspects. Many of them were also delightfully written in shades of grey. There are few obviously “good” characters, like Freya’s best friend from the beginning (Yay for female friendships! There were several in this book, and I loved that ultimately these relationships were given more attention than the romantic story line, which is fairly minimal, all told) and, obviously, her cat whom she adores (she risks her life to save the cat at one point which I completely understand!) But several characters on her much-reduced council are presented with their own compelling reasons for either wanting to support her rule or work quietly against it. Freya’s own father is set up as a bit of a grey character. He clearly loves his daughter, but his ambition is what lead to his rise in court from a lowly merchant, and Freya questions where this ambition could ultimately lead. With all of this, I was truly surprised by who the culprit ultimately turned out to be.
I typically try to avoid reading many other reviews for books before I write my own, but with this one I did want to see what other reviewers were doing when slotting this book in a genre. It is presented as a fantasy novel, but for the life of me I can’t really understand why. Sure, it’s set in an imaginary kingdom…but that’s it. There is no magic that is referenced, no creatures that don’t exist in our world, nothing really. And I feel like this was a bit of a failing in its marketing. This book is more a political/historical YA novel, and by setting it up as a YA fantasy (a genre that is booming beyond belief right now), I feel like a lot of readers came out of it disappointed. As I love these genres as well, I wasn’t perturbed by it. But both the description and cover make it seem like this is somehow a fantasy novel, and for readers who are mostly there for the magic and romance that is usually found in YA fantasy…you’re kind of setting the book up to fail by not targeting the correct audience. Sure, publishers want the extra bang for their buck that comes from jumping on a popular genre bandwagon, but is it worth the backlash when readers discover the truth? I never like this type of marketing tomfoolery, as I feel like this is a strong novel for what it is and that’s now being undercut due to these silly tactics.
But if you are a reader who enjoys YA political/historical novels that focus in on science rather than magic, definitely check this one out!
Rating 8: A great, character-focused political romp!
Find “Long May She Reign” at your library using WorldCat!