Title: The True Queen
Author: Zen Cho
Publication date: March 12 2019
Hardcover: 384 pages
The enchanted island of Janda Baik, in the Malay Archipelago, has long been home to witches. And Muna and her sister Sakti wake on its shores under a curse, which has quite stolen away their memories. Their only hope of salvation lies in distant Britain, where the Sorceress Royal runs a controversial academy for female magicians. But the pair travel via the formidable Fairy Queen’s realm, where Sakti simply disappears.
To save her sister, Muna must learn to navigate Regency London’s high society and trick the English into believing she’s a magical prodigy. But when the Sorceress Royal’s friends become accidentally embroiled in a plot – involving the Fairy Queen’s contentious succession – Muna is drawn right in. She must also find Sakti, break their curse and somehow stay out of trouble. But if Fairyland’s true queen does finally return, trouble may find her first . . . t
Stand alone or series: Book 2 in the Sorceress Royal series but can be read as a standalone
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Audiobook
I can’t believe it’s been four whole years since the delightful Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho knocked my socks off and charmed my cold, cold heart. Never mind, we have now been blessed with The True Queen, a companion novel set in the same world but featuring different protagonists which can be read as a stand-alone . BUT should it be read as a stand-alone, inquiring minds want to know? Of course not, why on earth would you do this to yourself?
BUT I DIGRESS.
It opens not in England but on the island of Janda Baik, in Malaysia, where sisters Muna and Sakti wake up one day memoryless on a beach, having been cursed by an unknown personage. The powerful local witch Mak Genggang takes the two girls under her wing for protection, specially when Sakti proves to be an incredibly prodigious magician herself. Muna is just… Muna: loyal sister and Mak Genggang’s devout servant. But when whatever curse they are under starts to make Sakti literally fade away little by little, the two sisters decide to take matters into their own hands and discover that whomever cursed them probably lives in England. Maybe.
So off they go to England, where the Sorceress Royal Prunella and her unique school for magic women are waiting for Sakti (and Muna). But the way there is through Fairyland where Sakti finds herself trapped. To save her sister and find out a way to break the curse, Muna has to go England alone.
But what can Muna possibly do? She of no magic and of no consequence?
MEANWHILE. Breaking news: England and the Sorceress Royal are in trouble against Fairy. It looks as though someone has stolen some sort of powerful talisman from the Fairy Queen? And she will kill everybody in England if it’s not returned to her. Pronto.
Well, you know what comes next. YES, THAT’S RIGHT: a delightful take on power that also engages with racism, colonialism and misogyny. FUN TIMES. But also a delightful story that features double crossing, heists, an adventure into Fairyland starring odd couple Muna and Prunella’s best friend Henrietta Stapleton.
A MOMENT OF YOUR TIME:
I interrupt this review to introduce: MISS HENRITETTA STAPLETON. Devoted daughter, sister and BFF. Secret!Magic!User and a secret teacher (against her family’s wishes) at the school with a quiet voice and a quiet demeanour who is like: Yes, father, I shall marry this man I do not WILL NOT EVER love so I can save our family from financial ruin. Yes, Prunella, truly, you are right Prunella *proves Prunella wrong*. Also: “my family has no idea I am a witch, I shall create this uniquely amazing spell who will create A DOUBLE to take my place while I go off on this dangerous adventure with this intriguing young lady I may or may not have a crush on”.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR ATTENTION.
Moving on, although it’s very clear who Muna and Sakti are from the very beginning, this is not the point of the story as this is not a book (or a series) to rely on “twists”. It’s all in the journey, in the thoughtful way it engages with sisterhood and love and empowerment, and to the uses of magic, especially who gets to use it and how. And all that, it does really well.
You may be asking yourself: but what about Prunella and Zacharias, do they show up at all? Well, yes, dear reader, they have resplendent cameos, specially Prunella who remains her usual practical self.
The True Queen is an adventure novel, a comedy of manners and errors featuring queer dragons and queer women, tons of delightful (oh, oops, there goes this perfectly suited word again) dialogue and a super sweet romance between two women.
Rating: 8 – Delightfully Excellent