I’ve had The True Queen sitting on my shelf a while; long enough that I remember the general plot and characters of the first novel in the series (A Sorcerer to the Crown) which ended up being a little bit of a problem when I didn’t quite remember who certain characters were at first or how they were meant to relate to each other. The first novel is Jane Austen-esque, and this one keeps the general vibe, but the story this time is all new; I honestly would have a hard time giving you a good parallel from Austen for this one, and I’ve read most of Austen’s novels. It also focuses on an entirely new character, so in the end it wasn’t so bad that some of the details took a little while to come back.
The True Queen is the story mostly of Muna, who washes up on a beach in Janda Baik (the name of an actual place in Malaysia; it’s magic is also referred to as Malay at one point) with very little memory of who she is. All she knows is that the girl who washes up near her, Sakti, is her sister. Muna and Sakti are taken in by Mak Genggang, the local witch. The girls are sent to England to study at the Sorcerer Royal’s new school for girls with magic, but they have an ulterior motive: Sakti is apparently starting to fade away, literally. But then Sakti suddenly disappears while she and Muna are passing through Fairy to get to England, and now Muna who doesn’t have much magic (Sakti was the one who had the abilities) has to convince the English she’s the magic prodigy they were expecting at the same time as she has to figure out what happened to her sister. And if this weren’t enough, almost as soon as she gets to England, Muna is drawn into a conflict between the Queen of Fairy, the naga, and England. Muna and Henrietta, one of Prunella’s friends (Prunella being the heroine of the first book and now the Sorcerer Royal) end up on a rescue mission that goes sideways, and as with any Austen novel everyone just sort of happens to end up where and with whom they were meant to. Muna’s match came a little bit as a surprise since there hadn’t been much hint of anything romantic there, but it was a nice little surprise.
The first novel brought in race by making Prunella brown, and Zacharias (her eventual husband) black, and this time around, the theme is still there since Muna is colored as well, but there is also more attention to how the English see Muna; this wasn’t as much an issue in the first novel, so it was interesting to see here. For example, at one point, someone invites Muna to another event because she is ‘exotic’ and would make the event more interesting. It’s not a major part of the story, but it’s there just enough that culture and race have a little more direct attention and meaning.
The only thing that actually bothered me was that the mythology/folklore presented seemed to conflate naga and dragons at certain points. If there is a tradition where they are the same or at least interchangeable, I don’t know it and would have appreciated a little more info about how that works. It’s a minor point overall though. This is a fun light read that still has something interesting to say about history and society if you want to look for it.