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Review: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

on March 4, 2019

Four Dead Queens
Astrid Scholte
Allen & Unwin
2019, 418p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Four Queens. A divided nation. A ruthless pickpocket. A noble messenger. And the murders that unite them.

Keralie Corrington is a talented pickpocket. She steals for the black market in her quadrant. Her nation is divided into four regions, each strictly separated from the other. Four queens, one from each quadrant, rule as one.

When Keralie steals a particularly valuable item from a messenger, she discovers she’s intercepted instructions to murder the queens. Hoping to find the culprit, Keralie teams up with Varin Bollt. But with Keralie and Varin each keeping secrets – and the lives of the queens hanging in the balance – everything is at stake. And no one can be trusted in a world full of ruthless thieves, black markets, a golden palace, daring heists, royal intrigue, noble messengers, forbidden love, four queens – each with a secret, and, of course, murder.

An enthralling fast-paced murder mystery where competing agendas collide with deadly consequences, Four Dead Queens heralds the arrival of an exciting new YA talent.

I had been hearing a lot about this book for what seemed like months in the build up to its release. It had a lot of buzz generated about it and it was enough to have me putting it on a list of books I was anticipating greatly in the first half of 2019. A stand alone fantasy title, Four Dead Queens has everything going for it – an eye catching cover, an intriguing premise and a release into multiple markets.

Keralie is a pickpocket, working for a notorious figure in her quadrant. She thieves items to be sold and when her boss challenges her to steal from a messenger, Keralie realises that there’s much more going on here than just a simple theft. When she realises what she’s stolen, Keralie teams up with the messenger she stole the item from, Varin Bollt, who is from another of the quadrants. She’s determined to prevent what she saw from happening….but sometimes, when things have been set in motion, it’s hard to stop a runaway train. And Keralie is going to realise just how much she’s being used in this scenario.

So I found the world building in this really interesting. The realm is divided into four quadrants and each quadrant focuses on a particular thing – and only that particular thing. So one grows food and shuns technology and provides all the food for the entire population. Another sector focuses on technology etc. Each sector is ruled by a Queen and all the Queens remain in the capital. The throne for each sector is passed down through the female line and as long as this system has been in place, there have always been daughters to inherit upon the death of a Queen. However when Keralie foresees the deaths of the four Queens it’s widely believed that all four are without heirs, which would thrown the entire realm into complete chaos.

Keralie is from Toria, the quadrant that values commerce and Varin is from Eonia, the quadrant that values medicine, technology and harmony. They are two very different quadrants and Keralie and Varin are two very different people. Keralie grew up in a fishing family but had zero interest in taking over from her father. Instead she learned to become a thief, working for a man who runs like a black market auction house. Childhood is very different in Eonia than in the other quadrants and Varin has had everything in his life mapped out for him. The two of them learn a lot about each other and life in other quadrants and perhaps how keeping everything so separate has had its negatives.

I really enjoyed Keralie, who is a complex character filled with mixed emotions about her upbringing and her time as thief and her ties to her childhood friend. I also appreciated her conflicted thoughts on her realisation of just how much she’d been manipulated and what exactly she had witnessed. I felt as though this was really quite well done and it was definitely a direction in the story that I had not been expecting. I liked her interactions with Varin and what they learn from each other and the pros and cons from the other’s way of life. It opens up a lot of dialogue about the dissection into quadrants and what that has resulted in.

We also get the perspective of each of the Queens and how each of them have their own secrets and thoughts on the way in which they must rule. I actually would’ve liked to know a bit more about the more day to day lives of the people living in the quadrants – we visit two of them in Toria and Eonia but the other two, Archia and Ludia are only described and we don’t actually get to experience them as such. We get a good example of life in Toria from Keralie and Varin gives a bit of an insight into life in Eonia and the Queens themselves kind of provide information on the other two, but it might’ve been nice to see properly I think.

Although this was enjoyable, there were times it felt a bit like it was attempting to do a bit too much and therefore, some of the aspects suffered a bit. There was sort of a semi-romance blossoming but its not given the time and attention it needs to allow the reader to really connect with it and the ending is a bit ambiguous and left a bit up in the air. Also there’s not really enough detail in the creation of the plot to kill the Queens, I don’t think. The culprit is easy enough to guess but the methods were a nice surprise, although once again it’s neatly tied up in ‘vague technology no one knows anything about’ which means that they can do things that really don’t require proper explanation which felt a tiny bit lazy.

On the whole, this was a very interesting read that I liked a lot with maybe a few tiny nitpicks here and there that detracted from the overall story (but nothing major). I would be very interested to see what Astrid Scholte comes out with next.


Book #37 of 2019

Four Dead Queens is the 17th book read and reviews for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

3 responses to “Review: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

  1. Great review! I’m a bit on the fence about this one. I think I’m still going to get it though, it does look interesting, just afraid it might be too similar to other books

  2. […] Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte. My review. […]

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