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The Queens of Innis Lear


The Queens of Innis Lear

What does it feel like to read THE QUEENS OF INNIS LEAR? Like a long-closed stone of literary canon has been overturned, and beneath it breathes new life, in wait to devour. Like watching “Game of Thrones,” but with far more interesting magic, far less violence against women and, arguably, simply far better writing. Like a revelation. Like lying in the depths of an ancient forest at midnight, your body sinking into the fertile soil filled with growing things, your eyes searching the starscape, the sure, strong crash of sea waves somewhere in the offing.

Tessa Gratton reimagines the story of King Lear, granting the focus and agency to Lear’s three mixed-race daughters. She performs this endeavor exquisitely, pairing her intricate knowledge of the origin story with her own deeply imagined fantastic worldbuilding. You don’t need to have any knowledge of Shakespeare at all to enjoy this work --- the novel fully stands alone --- but it’s also in conversation with the text in meaningful and rewarding ways. By envisioning an anti-patriarchal narrative, Gratton is able to spin a wildly fresh, innovative tale.

"THE QUEENS OF INNIS LEAR reads like the best kind of whirlwind. I desperately want to read more fantasy written just like this, and will eagerly dig into Gratton’s entire backlist while I wait for her next book."

On the island of Innis Lear, two wild magics are at work --- that of the soil and the rootwaters, and that of the stars and their prophecies. King Lear is a man past his prime, blindly devoted to the will of the stars, in all of their impassive cruelty. He loathes the baseness of the rootwater magic of the island. His eldest daughter, Gaela, is a fierce and ruthless soldier. She holds no stock by the stars, as they prescribed her downfall, and she will never admit defeat. Her husband, the Duke of Astore, is a cruel man who Gaela chose to grant her access to power. The middle daughter, Regan, is a witch, though she wields her magic for her own purposes. She loves her husband, the Duke of Connley, and aches that she cannot successfully bear his children and produce his heirs.

Then there is the youngest, Elia, a star-blessed priest. She is her father’s favorite and he hers, though he loathes that her affinity for reading the heavens is equaled by her skill at speaking the language of the trees and the love of the island’s rootwaters. She seeks peace and protection, but finds herself enmeshed in the ferocious ambitions of her sisters and the other men of the island. These men include the young, determined King Morimaros of the nearby Aremoria, who wants to either destabilize Innis Lear or claim it, and Ban, the lithe, deadly bastard soldier who earned the name The Fox on the battlefield, whose tender history with Elia may not suffice to save them both.

Gratton weaves this tale through time periods and through the voices of nearly every single one of her major characters. This is not an easy feat, and she does it deftly; instead of letting it devolve into confusion, she eloquently expands and embellishes every scene with each voice. There are no straightforward heroes or villains here --- only well fleshed-out young people with what they each believe to be the best intentions, and those intentions clash against each other with increasing desperation and determination.

This is an intricate, cinematic tale. Every sentence is flush with luscious writing. Gratton has taken the very best parts of a gripping Shakespeare tragedy and chosen to make it women-driven, to not shy away from emotion and cause, to be frank about body, gender, identity, childbearing --- and she’s infused it with deep, enticing magic. The story is derived from a tragedy and a tragedy it remains, in many ways --- which broke my heart in ways I couldn’t fully embrace, because here she made me care so much more about these characters. At the same time, of course I should have expected some of the downfalls, and I deeply respect and appreciate all of her choices. She builds to them expertly.

THE QUEENS OF INNIS LEAR reads like the best kind of whirlwind. I desperately want to read more fantasy written just like this, and will eagerly dig into Gratton’s entire backlist while I wait for her next book.

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on March 30, 2018

The Queens of Innis Lear
by Tessa Gratton

  • Publication Date: March 27, 2018
  • Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books
  • ISBN-10: 0765392461
  • ISBN-13: 9780765392466