The beginning of the school year is always a rough transition time as I try to work out a schedule that allocates time to everyyything that I want to do but also leaves me adequate breaks to recover. One of the many things that I struggle to find time for is casual reading, but it’s also the most relaxing aspect of my life, so I’d like to find more time for it this semester. On that note, this week I read an advance copy of Tessa Gratton’s The Queens of Innis Lear in exchange for an honest review. This was exactly the kind of engrossing YA read that I’ve been craving recently.
The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton
It begins when a wizard cleaves and island from the mainland, because the king destroyed her temple.
The island is raw and steeped in her rage, making the people who grow there strong, and sharp, and ever quick to fight. Mountains claw upward in the north, and a black river gushes south and west, spreading fingers east into smaller streams that trip through the center of the island. The rush of water gathers up all the trees and flowers, giving them the blood to grow wild and tall, feeding the roots until they dig through the rock itself. Where roots merge with stone, new clear springs are born.
Within pages I was struck by the raw, mysterious energy that seeps out of Gratton’s world of plotting princesses and nourishing rootwater, heartless stars and whispering winds—madness and magic both. That being said, the plot was a bit confusing to follow during the earlier character switches. While it quickly becomes clear that The Queens of Innis Lear follows the general arc of Shakespeare’s King Lear, it was difficult to anticipate what changes were included to accommodate the dream-like nature magic and literally star-crossed romance.
This novel’s high points were the abundantly filled in backstories of all the major characters and the richly chronicled descriptions of magic. In particular, Gratton handles the antagonists very well. Gaela and Regan (Goneril and Regan) garner sympathy and admiration through their belief in the necessity of their actions and ceaseless love for each other. The Fox (the bastard) completely 180s in his role. His actions may be the same as Shakespeare penned, but his motivations are reworked in a captivating new light. Meanwhile, Elia (Cordelia) is just as pure, Lear is perhaps even slightly more troubled, and the Fool is a touch less nonsensical. This being said though, sometimes the lavishly detailed settings overshadow the characters and plot.
Another aspect I really appreciated was how Gratton showed that many of the princesses’ formative experiences involved a sense of ostracization due to their darker skin color. This occurs despite the fact that the princesses are socially in the upper class. I do have some reservations on how the issues of race and class were glanced over rather rapidly, as well as mental illness for that matter. But this is a YA novel after all, I wasn’t expecting a thorough discourse on social rights.
I love the idea behind this Shakespearean rewrite and even most of the execution, but I am peeved that it’s heavily marketed as “King Lear meets Game of Thrones“. There’s not really anything that screamed Games of Thrones to me (the importance of magic and prophecy in this novel really stand out, things that aren’t a major focus of GoT; if anything, even Harry Potter would be a closer comparison), and honestly, Shakespeare had enough twisted plot-lines without modern help. Another thing that bothered me was that Gratton wasn’t consistent in retention of character names, which ended up making me question whether I had remembered the original characters and plot incorrectly.
A kingdom at risk, a crown divided, a family drenched in blood.
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.