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Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helen Corcoran

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Queen of Coin and Whispers

by Helen Corcoran
April 23, 2020 · The O'Brien Press
Teen FictionLGBTQIAScience Fiction/FantasyYoung Adult

Confession time: I skip to the end within the first 10% of most books. (Please don’t yell at me. I’ve already been told by horrified friends that it’s a moral failing.) When I skipped to the end of Queen of Coin and Whispers, I was hit by one of the most compelling lines I’ve read in a long time:

She loved me as I loved her, fierce as a bloodied blade.

Does it give you shivers, too? That line perfectly encapsulates the tone of this young adult fantasy novel. While I have some issues with the book, its worldbuilding is great and I loved the romance.

Lia becomes the Queen of Edar when her uncle, the King, dies. Edar has been nearly beggared by his extravagance and the Court is corrupt, with everyone in it working only for their own gain. Lia is idealistic, determined to root out the corruption and turn Edar around, but she can’t do it without the right people by her side. That includes her Master of Whispers (aka spymaster). Each monarch has a Whispers and Lia has to choose one fast, to better protect her from assassination threats.

No one knows who Whispers is, but everyone knows the Master of Coin, who runs Edar’s Treasury. Xania is one of the brightest minds who works for Coin at the treasury and she has a secret: she’s determined to find her father’s killer. Thanks to a recommendation from her best friend, who is also the Queen’s confidante, the opportunity to become Whispers drops in Xania’s lap. She knows she’ll have no better way to avenge her father, and his meticulous training ensures Xania up for the task of protecting the Queen.

A LOT happens in Queen of Coin and Whispers. There are assassination attempts, suitors from other kingdoms who want to marry Lia, political machinations from Lia’s detractors and supporters, and through all that, Lia and Xania fall quickly and deeply in love. All of these elements deliver a clear sense of how dangerous life in Edar can be, no matter who you are. For example, we see a couple of assassination attempts on Lia and we learn that Vigrante, the Head of Government, has people killed (and makes it look like an accident) if they don’t do what he tells them to. I’m not even going to get into how expendable the people who have no money are….

That said, some elements didn’t do it for me, like the details of Xania’s continued work in the treasury. Maybe you’ll like it if banking is your jam, and I hope you do, because you will understand ALL about Edar’s finances if you read Queen of Coin and Whispers thoroughly. Sadly, that’s not my thing, so I was often bored during the first half of the book. I often put it down in favour of reading something else, or found myself skimming some scenes to get back to the elements I found more interesting, like moments of court intrigue or the interactions between Lia and Xania.

The story is told in the first person, alternating between Lia and Xania’s perspectives. Their voices are so distinct that it’s easy to tell who’s narrating. They’re also both conscientious narrators, sharing context to ensure we understand how things work in Edar. For example, very early in their acquaintance, Xania brings us in on Royal protocols, while she’s learning how to interact with Lia.

Her pen didn’t stop.

As the seconds trickled by, my legs ached. If she didn’t acknowledge me soon, I’d start trembling. Falling over wouldn’t be the best start.

Finally, just as I considered abandoning etiquette and falling, the scratching nib stopped.

‘Oh, damn it, rise.’

I straightened, keeping my head down.

‘We’re in private,’ she said. ‘I’m not going to behead you for looking at me.’

That was easy for her to say. Protocol worked itself around her. Protocol existed for her.

The shifting perspectives worked very well for me, except in the last third or so of the book. This is actually the most exciting section of the story, and I didn’t skim a word of it, but we see so little of Lia’s perspective that I was left wanting at least one more chapter from her (emphasis on at least). This is a massive miss for me and I’ve been grumbling to myself about it in the few weeks that have passed since I finished reading this book.

Why this part wasn’t satisfying, even if it was thrilling. Seriously major spoilers inside, because there’s no other way to express my biggest gripes.

After Lia abdicates the throne to protect her mother and Xania from the villain, Lia is kidnapped and taken to another realm. Xania stages a rescue and, when she finds Lia, learns that Lia has been tortured for weeks. Lia is understandably not the same person Xania knew before and brings a major case of PTSD home with her.

Here’s my issue: from her kidnapping to her rescue, we don’t get Lia’s perspective, only Xania’s. And while I’m glad I didn’t have to follow her experience as she was tortured, we only get one more scene from Lia’s perspective after she’s rescued. Even the epilogue is told from Xania’s perspective instead of Lia’s, which left me unsure of what Lia did to heal from her experiences.

The epilogue makes it clear that Lia has dealt with the worst of her trauma, and is recovering from the experience, existing in her ‘new normal.’ But there’s nothing about how she got there, at all. I’m still mad about it because after all the detail of the last third, the lack of detail isn’t reassuring. It’s a big dose of “telling” after a lot of “showing,” and takes away some of Lia’s agency—something she had a lot more of in the rest of the story.

I finished the book unsure how Lia’s trauma affected her and affected their relationship, and the reassurance of the epilogue was insufficient. I also wish we had better insight into Lia’s thought processes when she chooses to abdicate, because that is a big gap, too.

I was pleasantly surprised that same-sex relationships are no big deal in Edar, even if expectations for Lia are different. She’s expected to marry a cis man and procreate, so the kingdom can have its successor. Even with that hurdle ahead of them, and the suitors that show up, the romance between Lia and Xania is my favourite element of all in Queen of Coin and Whispers. They’re both young (I’m pretty sure they’re teenagers, but exact ages aren’t included), and that shows in the way they fall so quickly into a relationship with each other.

I was very invested in their relationship...

I was gutted when they broke up (they’re not together during the part that’s in the other spoiler tag), and I couldn’t wait for them to figure their shit out so they could get back together.

They go to hell and back to get their HEA and I absolutely believe they will be together forever—and will stab anyone who tries to fuck with them again. Even with the questions that troubled me after finishing the book, I had a couple of happy tears while reading the epilogue because of how firmly established they are as a couple.

Ultimately, I’m glad I read Queen of Coin and Whispers, even if I felt lukewarm about it at times. I’ve rarely read something as gripping as the last third of the book and I was left thinking about it for days after I finished reading it. It has problems, for sure, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to everyone (like, say, people who like a lot more action and a little less bean counting in their fantasy novels), but if you like fantasy stories with strong worldbuilding, politics, and a solid romance, this could be a good choice for you.

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