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The Queen Will Betray You by Sarah Henning

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The Queen Will Betray You

by Sarah Henning
July 6, 2021 · Tor Teen
Historical: EuropeanRomance

Content warning: lots of stabbings, beheadings, poisonings, deaths by burning, drowning, acid, and I’ve probably forgotten some others. Basically, lots of violent death, which will happen when you are having multiple military coups and revolutions and wars in one novel.

The Queen Will Betray You is the second book in the trilogy that starts with The Princess Will Save You. It’s very good, but you absolutely should not read it unless you have read the first book.

In fact, you might even want to skip this review until you have done so – the second book is completely dependent on the first, and is impossible to review without spoilers for The Princess Will Save You.

Also, this story is incredibly twisty and confusing even if you have read the books in sequence, and I don’t think you’d have a hope of following it without having read the first book.

And also, if you like the sound of this story, you will like The Princess Will Save You, so you might as well just start by reading it… Think The Princess Bride, but gender-swapped and with more twisty politics.

So. Spoilers from here on in, got it?

The end of the first story left us with Amarande and Luca parting for a time in order to pursue their separate destinies. It also ended with the introduction of two characters who changed the whole shape of the political landscape in this world. Needless to say, their appearance instantly overturns all of Amarande and Luca’s plans, and thus we are plunged into a series of adventures involving lost heirs, palace coups, murders, revolutions, dramatic escapes, spies, convoluted plots, cunning plans, and secrets. Almost every chapter ends with the discovery that someone who you thought was on one side of the various conflicts is actually on a different side.

It’s very exciting, but also a bit confusing. I wound up reading this book more or less in one sitting, both because everything was so tense that I didn’t dare to stop and also because I wasn’t at all sure I’d be able to keep track of who was scheming with whom if I put the book down for more than a few minutes.

The nods to The Princess Bride continue throughout this story. I got my left handed swordsman and my Inigio Montoya Revenge moments, though absolutely not in the forms I expected them, and there were several other moments that made me laugh in recognition. Also, while the love between Amarande and Luca is a driving force in this story, the romance takes an extremely distant second place to all the adventure and peril. It turns out that this is not, in fact, a kissing book.

For me, the most fun part of this story was the re-appearance of Prince Taillefer, who was perhaps the most gratuitously evil of the various villains in The Princess Will Save You. However, his position is now such that he finds himself if not precisely on Amarande’s side, certainly at her side for large chunks of the book. I would not call this an alliance – Amarande has very good reason to hate Taillefer, and Taillefer’s own agenda is tortuous in the extreme – but they have a reluctant sort of partnership for much of the book. This partnership comprises about 50% helping each other survive a series of deadly plot twists, and 50% Taillefer being absolutely as aggravating as possible. And this is very aggravating indeed. He needles well enough to join the Embroiderers’ Guild.

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Taillefer’s presence in the book as much as I did – he really was moustache-twirlingly evil in the previous book – but I liked the way we got to see more of his character. I enjoyed his fascination with natural sciences, and how this made him quite a useful person to travel with, and also someone who can kill you in new and appalling ways. And I liked how sharp he was. Yes, he annoys Amarande for fun and profit, but occasionally he points out something important that she needs to reflect on.

This is very much a YA fantasy, and so a lot of the story is about Amarande, Luca and Taillefer growing into themselves. I especially enjoyed watching Luca growing into his new role and responsibilities. Being a loyal and kind stable boy isn’t really a good preparation for leading a revolution, but Luca is intelligent and perceptive about people, and those turn out to be useful skills too.

But the other story that we see both in the present and in flashbacks is the story of two Queens, Amarande’s mother Geneva, and Taillefer’s mother, Inès. Both are women who have been powerless and now seek power, and it’s difficult not to have some sympathy for them, even if their current actions are appalling. And I think we are supposed to understand them as capable women whose ambitions were twisted by the oppressive patriarchy.

In fact, I know we are, because this book talks about the patriarchy All. The. Time. I am all for fighting the patriarchy, but I did find it a bit distracting.

I also didn’t like how all this patriarchy-fighting was resolved in the end.

Show Spoiler
The two elder Queens and Amarande all characterise their actions as being about overthrowing the patriarchy. Inès does this by being super murdery, Geneva by being extra-schemy, with a side of murder. Amarande, in the end, overcomes the barriers caused by the patriarchy through love and through alliances.

I’ve been trying to put my finger on why I didn’t like this, given that I definitely think that alliances are a better strategy than poisoning people when it comes to creating change. It felt like there was just a slight echo here of respectability politics. Change is possible – but only if one goes about it in the right way. Geneva and Inès try to grasp for power that isn’t legitimately theirs; Amarande, in the end, asks nicely for hers, and receives it. And yes, she has been fighting for this for two books, but in the end, she only gains power because the two Kings choose to change the rules so that she can rule in her own right. They say yes to her request. It felt disempowering.

On a more positive note, this story continued the trend of having loads of female characters in interesting roles – heroines, villains, resistance fighters, generals, healers, and perpetrators of plots. Almost all the key characters in this story were women, and I also liked that about half the minor characters, such as servants, soldiers, healers, councillors, members of the Warlord’s train, and so forth were women and girls too. There was clearly strong female participation across all ranks of society, though on reflection, this undermines that whole opening issue about women not being allowed to rule as Queens in their own right.

The Queen Will Betray You is pure fun, twisty, romantic adventure from start to end. It had me on the edge of my seat, making horrified and delighted noises in turn. I enjoyed the wealth of strong female characters and I enjoyed cinnamon roll Luca and venomous snake Taillefer. If I have an issue with this story, it is that the plot was so very twisty that I sometimes found it hard to keep track of – you really need to have your wits about you to read and enjoy this book.

If you are looking for a fun fantasy novel for the teenage girl in your life, especially if she enjoyed The Princess Bride, and has a reasonable tolerance for lots of stabbings and murders, I can definitely recommend both The Princess Will Save You and The Queen Will Betray You.

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