Author: Jane Yolen & Midori Snyder
Genre: Fantasy, Contemporary Fantasy/Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Roc (Penguin)
Publication Date: February 2010
Hardcover: 384 Pages
From award winning authors Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder comes a tale of two worlds-and one destiny…
Sisters Serena 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. Serena, 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…
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book: Jane Yolen is an author I read and adored when I was a young reader (her Sister Light, Sister Dark and White Jenna were my particular favorites), and so when I saw that she had a new fantasy novel, I was ecstatic. I hadn’t read anything by Midori Snyder, but was more than willing to dive into Except the Queen…
Most of the time, I can get a feel for a book pretty quickly. I can predict what a book is about and where it is gonna go from the first chapter or so. But every so often, a book comes along and completely befuddles me. These books are surprises; they are unpredictable.
Such is Except the Queen.
Written by collaborating award-winning authors Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder, Except the Queen is an unexpected delight of a novel, alternating between two main narrators, fey sisters Serana and Meteora. After stumbling across their haughty, proud queen copulating with a mortal, Serana warns Meteora that they must never, ever speak of what they have seen, for the Fey Queen’s rage is terrible. Alas, Meteora unwittingly lets her tongue slip, and soon the High Court is atwitter with the news of their beautiful, superior Queen’s rutting – everyone is allowed their games and silly engagements with humans, except the Queen. To quell the gossip, the Queen banishes the sisters to the world of humans, depriving them of their magic and their beautiful, youthful forms. Separated from each other, placed in powerless, old woman flesh, and utterly alone in this bizarre new world, Serana and Meteora struggle to accustom themselves to their mortal surroundings, and to find each other no matter the cost. But each sister soon discovers that they have stumbled into something much larger and of more import than a Fey Queen’s wounded pride. The fate of their world lies in the hands of these two banished sisters, and the two strange mortals each is inexplicably drawn to: a troubled girl named Sparrow that cries herself to sleep every night and bears a poison tattoo from one of Meteora’s kind, and a deeply, emotionally scarred young man named Robin, that beseeches Serana for sanctuary.
When I first laid eyes on Except the Queen, I was under the impression it was a Young Adult novel (probably in large part due to the YA feel to the cover) – but it certainly is no lighthearted fairy romp. Imagine my surprise, then, when the novel left the Fey woods in a Howl’s Moving Castle sort of turn of events, set in the urban jungle of contemporary New York (and Milwaukee)! Except the Queen kept me on my toes throughout – there are minor players and major ones, none of them truly understanding their own place in the story or the overall scheme of events until, in a flourish of revelation, everything comes together in the end. I loved the little surprises along the way to resolution and the unexpectedness of this quiet, beautifully written book.
Indeed, it’s really the writing style that makes Except the Queen stand out – Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder have the collaboration thing down pat. Although I’m not sure if each author wrote as the separate voices of the sisters, my guess would be that is the case, and the overall result is damn near seamless. Meteora and Serana are distinct, separate characters with their own experiences and first-person narrations – though the prose for both sisters is equally beautiful and unique. Meteora, the younger sister, the spontaneous “meddler and mender” of the two, was my favorite character (and, in all honesty, more central to the story, reminiscent of Brandon Sanderson’s Siri of Warbreaker). Serana, in contrast, is the wiser, “farseer” elder sister – perhaps a little less memorable in comparison to her vivacious sister, but a wonderful character nonetheless. I loved how both Serana and Meteora struggled with the human world and their interpretation of our familiar technology and customs. For example, in describing the U.S. Postal service, Meteora writes:
Now, you must write your Mortal Name, the numer, street, city state, and code of your abode on the back of the envelope. Find a letter that surely will be in a little box by your door. It will have all the information you need. There are big blue boxes on the street with eagles painted on them, put your letter to me there and a man dressed in blue with an eagle sigil on his breast will take it from the box and bring it to me. Better an eagle than a dove, don’t you agree?
Or, in a particularly memorable scene, Baba Yaga teaches Meteora how humans speak:
“What the fuck!” he shouted as the books tumbled to the ground.
“Yes, fuck you,” Baba Yaga said gaily.
“Fuck you, lady,” he snapped. “What the fuck’s your problem?”
“No fucking problem, really.”
“Yeah, well fuck off then.”
“See? Many uses,” Baba Yaga said, pulling me away from the angry boy who was muttering Stupid bitch as he gathered up his books. “Shit is another useful word. Also very common. For example, pleasantly surprised? You say ‘No shit?’ You think someone tells you tales, you scoff, ‘You’re shitting me.’ You find something you like very much, you exclaim, ‘That’s good shit!'” She looked down at me to see if I was following the language lesson, when in truth I was appalled. Not that we didn’t have our own bawdy language, but it seemed somehow richer and more expressive. Here there was only shit and fuck. What had happened to prick-louse and pig’s spawn? Or clay-brained apple-john? Or canker-blossomed coxcomb?
Oh, delightful! You get the picture.
The actual format of the story is wonderful as well, as each sister narrates in alternating chapters, tied together by their letters to each other and interspersed occasionally with the short, first-person present tense narration of other important players: the Fey Queen, a mysterious Dog Boy, a dark Fey lord, and Sparrow.
Heartfelt, beautiful, and surprising, I loved this lovely fantasy novel from Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder. Though there were of course the usual misunderstandings that come form characters keeping secrets from each other (secrets kept with the best of intentions), these irritations were trivial. Except the Queen is a wonderful, captivating read and recommended to all.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
The Queen Remembers
You are in the forest that is not your own. You squint at its brightness; the sunlight bleaching the familiar green, the scent of the trees dusty as pressed flowers. You have come out of curiosity, and shivering beneath the glamour you are wearing, you roam through the quiet pines and birch. You have left behind your armor, your rank, your power, your great age. Here you are young, beautiful and fragile as the lily, your throat white and perfumed. Birds trill a warning and fall quiet. And then you hear it, a man singing softly under his breath, something tuneless, without true shape to change the world.
You stop and wait, frozen as the deer, for this is what you have come to see, to learn, to experience. For an eternity you have existed in another time, but now you are in this moment, and desire burns away the practiced control.
You see him weaving in and out of the sunlight, his chestnut hair stippled like a fawn’s hide. Yet he moves purposefully, hunting for you. You can smell the oil of his rifle, cradled in the crook of his arm. Alarm prickles your skin, crying run. But you will not. You want to see what happens. You want to know what it feels like, that pain that is human love, that weakness that binds stronger than spells. You, who have never given so much as a mustard seed of power away for free, you have come to give yourself away.
The man moves into the clearing and hesitates as if he knows you are there. And why should he not feel you? Have you not come here the last three days to spy on him? He is well made, with a comely face that pleases you. He is dressed like an oriole, the dark wool of his coat partially covered by a shrill orange that makes it easy to spot him even in the brush.
You study his face, wondering if you can allow yourself this indulgence. All the others have had their dalliances, their madcap affairs—everyone except the Queen. But you are here now and strangely calm as he turns toward you. You raise your arm and the dun-colored sleeve covers your face as you bend from your supple waist. You hold your breath for you hear the soft snick of the gun, feel its eye upon you, and you brace yourself for the stinging touch of iron.
The shot cracks the air open like a nut and it is too late to change your mind. You cry out as the bullet passes beneath your ribs and out your back. How could you have known it would hurt so much? Blood spills, staining your white shift crimson and you fall into a nest of autumn-bitten bushes. You can hear him now, running toward you, the gun dropped behind him when you screamed. Already he bleeds too; despair, hope, and love spilling out for you as he runs to where you wait, wounded in the blood-stained green.
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Additional Thoughts: As mentioned before, I was a huge fan of Jane Yolen’s when I was growing up – my particular favorite book of hers was Sister Light, Sister Dark. I haven’t yet read Midori Snyder’s solo work, but I will be picking up The Innamorati (which intriguingly looks to be about the Commedia del’arte! Drama class, FTW!) very soon!
Anyone read Ms. Snyder’s solo novels and have a suggestion? [A side note: Isn’t that cover for Sister Light, Sister Dark/White Jenna made of awesome 90s WIN? This was the cover I had in middle school. I *loved* the hair.]
Verdict: Unexpected, sweet, and subtle, Except the Queen is the kind of contemporary – even Urban – fantasy I love to read. Absolutely recommended.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
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