Posted by: ritsukurimono | February 22, 2010

Except the Queen, Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder

AKA: Anything Maidens Can Do, Crones Can Do Better. Crones Can Do Anything Better Than You!

I’m being a little snide, I know. Except the Queen is a decent book. The characters are interesting, the plot moves along, I kept turning the pages (trust me, I am not loathe to put down a book just because I started it.) It’s just that it’s one of those books with a Very Important Message. That’s not necessarily a bad thing–take, for example, A Companion to Wolves1.There are just so many ways you can hear “Beauty fades, but old age is a respected, powerful state of being!” (or, as I like to call it, “CRONE POWER~ ★ !!!”) before you get a bit tired of it. There’s a bit of “Old Age Doesn’t Mean Not Having A Sex Life!” in there, too. And yet for all of that, look at the cover. I almost passed it by because it looked so shitty-YA-novel (Young woman with a tattoo + tribal vector graphic in the background + ravens? It’s a fucking trifecta) and only gave it a second look because I saw Jane Yolen’s name.

But anyway, that’s a little beside the point. Here’s the bookblurb:

Sisters Serana and Meteora were once proud members of the high court of the Fairy Queen- until they played a prank that angered her highness. Separated and banished to the mortal realm of Earth, they must find a way to survive in a strange world in which they have no power. But there is more to their new home than they first suspect…

A sympathetic Meteora bonds with a troubled young girl with an ornate tattoo on her neck. Meteora recognizes it as a magic symbol that will surely bring danger down on them all. Serana, meanwhile, takes in a tortured homeless boy whose mind is plagued by dark visions. The signs point to a rising power that threatens to tear asunder both fairy and human worlds.

And the sisters realize that perhaps the queen cast them from their homes not out of anger or spite- but because they were the only ones who could do what must be done…

I know. Meteora and Serana? What the hell, is Jane Yolen writing bad Mary Sue fanfic now? Rest assured, she is not. She and Midori Snyder do a good job with point of view; there’s no mistaking either sister for anything like human. Every experience is approached through a filter of off-kilter old-world sensibility (the scene where one of them eats a pot brownie by accident is kind of golden. Not funny exactly, but golden) and the authors do a fantastic job of interweaving little cultural and habitual details of their old life — herb lore, using doves for messengers, the characters’ priorities, the way they approach the modern world — into an incredibly rich text. I gobbled up those little details like candy.

The book is done in partially epistolary style, which is both a strong point and a weakness. I’m always intrigued by epistolary novels, but sometimes it’s hard to glean a sense of personality from the letters. I had a great sense of the shared culture that Serana and Meteora grew up in, but even at the end I didn’t have a very good sense of them as individuals. The human worldbuilding was also a little patchy in comparison to the fairy world. One sister ends up in New York City, and I definitely got a good sense of location in that storyline, sanitation worker strike and all. But the other sister landed in Milwaulkee, and I had no clue. Seriously, for three-quarters of the book I assumed that they were living in different boroughs of NYC, and was faintly confused as to why they didn’t just meet up somewhere on the Lower East Side or something instead of sending letters.

So all in all, it was a bit of an uneven book, but I think its strengths make it worth checking out.

1: I am an ardent feminist, okay. I loved this book! Stable poly relationships hooray! Nuanced portrayals of homosexuality, both situational and not, in a Norse setting! It takes that tired old 80s fantasy trope about humans bonded to animals/Companions/dragons and says, “Actually, being mentally and emotionally connected to a wild animal would not be like that at all.” But good god, the index could have read, “In Which Our Hero Leaves Behind His Patriarchial Roots.” “In Which Our Hero Has An Enlightening Experience With Someone From A Matriarchical Culture.” “In Which Our Hero Realizes That Women Are People Too!” “In Which the Hero’s Homophobic Father Learns the Error of His Ways.” A Companion to Wolves is many good things, but subtle is not one of them.

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