A Queen In Hiding by Sarah Kozloff

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A Queen In Hiding by Sarah Kozloff

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Stephen Leach
Reviewed by Stephen Leach
Summary: A weighty series opener that lays the groundwork for more while not quite hitting every mark.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 496 Date: February 2020
Publisher: Tor
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1250168542

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World-building is the backbone by which fantasy novels live and die. And what a pleasure, then, to get a novel with world-building you actually want to delve into. Sarah Kozloff's debut novel presents a startlingly rich and layered world, with a complex history of connecting nations that seems certain to have more to tap, and the characters are interesting – if a little underdeveloped. But it's a world I could – and did – eagerly buy into, and the struggle of each Queen to discover and hone her magical talent felt very real and very apt.

For all its length it's a little breathless, rapidly establishing the backstory and what's at stake, which is refreshing. But the brisk narration pretty quickly became somewhat meandering; lots of characters are introduced in rapid succession and it all gets a little overwhelming – I got quite irritated and wanted the novel to stick to one thread and properly establish one storyline before introducing more.

One thing that unfortunately does hold the novel back from being exceptional are the very obvious signs that it's a debut: there are some pitfalls that I would expect a fantasy author to know to avoid by this point. Having lots of capitalised words such as the Talent, the Chosen, and so on really grates – it's a cliché I can't be the only person to be sick of, and one I personally extremely dislike.

Of note is the unusual release schedule planned out by the publisher – there are three planned sequels, with each subsequent book due to be published over consecutive months. It's a clever strategy that short-cuts the usual pitfall of long fantasy epics: namely, no need to wait years for the next volume. While I question the wisdom of releasing four books in four months – a slightly longer break between volumes might have been more appropriate, while still allowing for all four books to be out within the same year – it's an innovative approach that feels exciting and fresh (and it's just so nice to have a fantasy series actually be finished for once – remember when authors used to do that? Remember how cool and exciting that was?).

While A Queen In Hiding wasn't everything I hoped it would be, I still want to know what happens next. But so many of my quibbles feel like things that the sequel could/should address it feels churlish to judge it too harshly; given that this is just one quarter of the story, I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and stick with it. A Queen In Hiding is full of promise and has a few moments which deliver – the question is whether the later books can do better. We'll find out soon.

I've been delving back into the works of Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell recently. If fantasy's your bag, you'll like their stuff – why not start with Wyrmeweald: Returner's Wealth?, We think you'll also enjoy The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French.

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