Review: The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine

Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Title: The Impostor Queen
Author: Sarah Fine
Genre: fantasy
Series: Untitled #1
Pages: 432
Published: January 2016
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

The elders chose Elli to be queen, but they chose wrong in this beautifully crafted novel in the tradition of Kristin Cashore and Victoria Aveyard.

Sixteen-year-old Elli was a small child when the Elders of Kupari chose her to succeed the Valtia, the queen who wields infinitely powerful ice and fire magic. Since then, Elli has lived in the temple, surrounded by luxury and tutored by priests, as she prepares for the day when the Valtia perishes and the magic finds a new home in her. Elli is destined to be the most powerful Valtia to ever rule.

But when the queen dies defending the kingdom from invading warriors, the magic doesn’t enter Elli. It’s nowhere to be found.

Disgraced, Elli flees to the outlands, the home of banished criminals—some who would love to see the temple burn with all its priests inside. As she finds her footing in this new world, Elli uncovers devastating new information about the Kupari magic, those who wield it, and the prophecy that foretold her destiny. Torn between the love she has for her people and her growing loyalty to the banished, Elli struggles to understand the true role she was meant to play. But as war looms, she must align with the right side—before the kingdom and its magic are completely destroyed.

There aren't many things that would make me try a book three times. But luckily for me, my friend Gillian from Writer of Wrongs finished The Impostor Queen after I had thrown in the second towel and her excitement about the story, the characters, the diversity, sucked me back in when I thought I was out. Sarah Fine takes a bit of time and some patience for her story to build in this fantasy series opener; for her characters to coalesce; for her simple, stark style to suck her readers in so completely into this interesting, dangerous world. 

I am a fan of certain tropes in fantasy but the "chosen one" is used so often in the genre, it's become almost a joke. Which is why I love it that Sarah Fine twisted that trope into an entire plotline and she did it so cleverly. The Impostor Queen asks "what if the chosen one... isn't the chosen one?" and then explores power, community, and identity. Elli spends the early part of the novel preparing for one life and then the rest of the book trying to reconcile her role in an unknown world. It's a strong plot and Fine handles it with nuance and often with lovely writing.

The characters in The Impostor Queen are, for the most part, well rounded, nuanced, and diverse. It's so refreshing to have a canonically confirmed bisexual character in a fantasy. Elli is a great character for a lot of reasons, and her sexuality is just simply a part of who she is, not the entirety of her personality or characterization. She's a smart girl who sometimes makes foolish decisions but she tries. She has agency and her drive to help, to be useful is so real for a girl in her position. Her life is not the life she envisioned but she adapts. 

The characters that surround Elli are not quite as dynamic as she is. Oskar comes the closest but he also has the most time to be characterized and rounded out. Maarika, Freya, Sig, Mim, Raimo all are moderately three dimensional but all have potential to become more nuanced and interesting characters. I did find myself becoming very invested in the lives these disparate characters lead. I was invested in Elli and Oskar as a couple but Sarah Fine plays the romance with a light hand, thankfully. 

There are more than a few twists and turns and unpredictable villains at the heart of The Impostor Queen to keep things interesting. Sarah Fine is deft plotter and kept me actively engaged until the very end of the four hundred page book. As it is the series opener there's less resolution to be found than I would like but I am 100% ready to jump back into this series with the next book.  It took a few tries but the story in this novel is worth the effort and time.

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