First of all, on the one hand this was a good follow up to Sorcerer to the Crown, which took pretty much everyone by surprise several years ago. It was like a little breath of fresh air, a light fantasy full of people of color in a setting people of color don’t normally inhabit in fiction (Regency England), taking on existing power structures and being all clever and wonderful. This book continues that tradition (this time with an emphasis on kindness and identity).
At the same time, one of the things I liked most about the first book is that I couldn’t predict where it was going, its specific twists and turns. In fact, I am largely terrible at predicting reveals, and I prefer it that way. I am most authors’ preferred reader: sitting back semi-passively waiting for the book to have its way with me (unless something gross or wrong or poorly written pulls me out of that, and then I am of course capable of critical thought). I *love* when books happen to me. It’s my favorite. And this book did not really do that, for all that it was a good time and I grew to like the characters quite a bit (and enjoyed revisiting my favorites from the last book: Prunella, Rollo, Damerell, Mak Genganng, though there was a weird lack of Zacharias).
(FYI I will not be talking about the plot at all except in spoiler tags because maybe when you read this you will not be able to guess what’s coming like I did and I would like that for you.)
So on the one hand, I literally predicted almost all of the reveals, including the big one right from the first page. But on the other, I liked the characters, the setting, the dialogue, the romance subplot (f/f), and I thought the climax was actually very satisfying, even though it didn’t really hold any surprises for me.
Let’s talk about all the reveals I predicted:
1. On page one we open with a storm and a lightning strike and some purposely vague imagery that in hindsight is obvious, and then we are introduced to two sisters. Immediately, I was like, oh is this an Anansi Boys situation where they are not actually sisters but two people split into various parts. This is not confirmed for a couple hundred pages, and it takes longer for the main character, Muna, to accept it, which was a bit frustrating because it’s never really explained why she’s being so obtuse about things that are *obvious*.
2. The queen’s missing Virtu (good pun btw). It is immediately apparent that it is hanging around Clarissa Midsomer’s neck, even before we know the Virtu is missing, because the text and Muna pay such attention to it.
3. I was immediately able to predict that Henrietta and Muna would end up together from their first meeting, for no discernable reason in the text.
4. Once I figured out that Sakti and Muna were one being split in two, it wasn’t a big leap to then assume they were also the titular True Queen. It’s the title of the book, who else could it be?
5. And once you have all those pieces, it’s not hard to then figure out that all of it will end with Saktimuna reuniting and defeating the evil fairy queen, her sister, though I was pleasantly surprised by how that actually went down.
All that said, though, I feel like the other reason I was able to like the book despite knowing almost exactly where it was going, was that Cho still manages little surprises every now and again, that come from the characters themselves. I knew the broad strokes, but not the details.
And, I mean, part of my discomfort with this is that I’m not 100% sure that I wasn’t *meant* to predict some of them? So I can’t entirely condemn the book for that without knowing for sure.
Anyway, I still think this book is worth reading, especially if you liked the first book, though this could theoretically stand on its own as well since it has a different set of main characters.
[3.5 stars, rounded up because I can