THE QUEENS OF INNIS LEAR
REPRESENTATION: Three Black Woman Protagonists
GENRES/ SUBJECTS: Fantasy, Retelling — King Lear
The erratic decisions of a prophecy-obsessed king have drained Innis Lear of its wild magic, leaving behind a trail of barren crops and despondent subjects. Enemy nations circle the once-bountiful isle, sensing its growing vulnerability, hungry to control the ideal port for all trade routes.
The king’s three daughters—battle-hungry Gaela, master manipulator Reagan, and restrained, starblessed Elia—know the realm’s only chance of resurrection is to crown a new sovereign, proving a strong hand can resurrect magic and defend itself. But their father will not choose an heir until the longest night of the year, when prophecies align and a poison ritual can be enacted.
Refusing to leave their future in the hands of blind faith, the daughters of Innis Lear prepare for war—but regardless of who wins the crown, the shores of Innis will weep the blood of a house divided.
I have complicated feelings about The Queens of Innis Lear. I read an eARC and — although I gave it a 4, not a 5 — it’s one of the very few books I think I could reread. I’m going to pick myself up a physical copy.
There are a lot of things that The Queens of Innis Lear does really well, and I’ll cover those in a moment period but I just can’t help but think that the book is far too long. It’s almost 600 pages, not ridiculous in terms of page count, but there were quite a few points in the story where it began to drag and that the pacing could have picked up. There are around 10 (I think?) POVs, and the present-day storyline is split up (almost every other chapter) by flashbacks of the previous twenty years. Some of these are really interesting, giving you a lot of information about how the three girls have become the women they are; and answering the mystery of what happened to their mother, Queen Dalat. However, a lot of the flashbacks also unnecessary, covering information that was just too irrelevant.
On the plus side, the writing of The Queens of Innis Lear is really beautiful. It has a real Shakespearean feel to it (which makes sense, of course). It’s very descriptive and very overdramatic at times. Personally, once I got used to this, I really liked it. It made it all the more obvious that was reading a Shakespearean retelling. However the prose maybe far too purple for some readers to really enjoy. I had to read the Prologue a couple of times to really get any kind of sense out of it.
All of the characters — most especially the three princesses (Gaela, Reagan and Elia) and spy/ wizard Ban, are incredibly complex, well-rounded characters. There’s a whole range of morally-grey motivations and types of ruthless deviousness. I really liked several of the characters. Reagan and her husband, Connelly, were personal favourites. I loved that they were so ambitious and completely dedicated to each other. I also loved the relationship between Elia and her maidservant, Aefa. It was great to see a female friendship where the girl were so supportive of each other. A final favourite was Morimaros, the king of a rival kingdom. It was great to see his outsider outlook of all the wildness and politics going on in Innis Lear.
Overall, The Queen’s of Innis Lear is certainly an interesting and ambitious project. I think it has enough the original story to be recognisable and to be enjoyable to existing fans, but it also stands entirely on its own, without any previous knowledge of King Lear. Although the plot sometimes tends to wonder, it gives a fuller, fleshed out and well-rounded look at the story, with a new feminist slant. There is a sense of creeping, inevitable tragedy throughout (unsurprisingly). Gratton writes this dark and depressive — but oddly magical — atmosphere incredibly well.