3 out of 4 stars
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So lies the crux of The Undying Queen of Ur by Abraham Kawa and Arahom Radjah. This is a story about love, about the way the stars crossed for Arkhalla, vampiric queen of Ur, and Shamath, a captive turned her slave. Their love birthed a growth within them as Arkhalla’s sense of self and of mercy began to change and Shamath transitioned from a boy into a man."At dawn, the sky was a slaughterhouse. As below, so above. Today was as yesterday, and so would be tomorrow. The sun rose just for her, and nothing changed."
Chapter 3, The Undying Queen of Ur
However, not all is as it seems in this novel. Though Arkhalla’s people tremble in a fear born of 200 years of terror, such a change is unwelcomed by her Council. While regret and love begin to shape her anew, Council members Sin and Bel plot a betrayal that will have sweeping ramifications not just for the empire Arkhalla has built, but for Arkhalla and Shamath themselves.
To say that this was an easy book to summarise would be a lie. I thought about what I should and shouldn’t include, but everything in my notes turned out to be a major spoiler of some sort. Every beat in the narrative has a significance and a setup that is paid off the more you read and you will read more when you pick up the novel. Kawa takes Radjah’s original story and runs with it in a way that doesn’t let up despite the mediated pacing of the novel.
You see, to talk about Arkhalla and The Undying Queen without talking about its origins would be a disservice to the novel. According to Radjah in the book’s introduction, the story and the world of Ur had been born out of a need to provide a history for the collectible statues he had been creating in 2014. From this story came a comic series, a limited run of 7 issues that told the novel’s story in a short, visual medium. Yet, this was clearly not enough as The Undyng Queen was later produced to expand on this series.
The transition from comic to prose fiction, as such, was truly a benefit to the characters and the setting. The novel explores the inner turmoil Bel, Shamath and Arkhalla all experience as Shamath’s arrival acts as a catalyst for change. Bel is cast aside for Shamath and forced to re-examine his own feelings and experiences in the wake of this rejection while Arkhalla seems to be ripped open from the inside by her own repressed emotions.
The world-building is on a smaller scale, however. Given that this is primarily a character-driven work, it’s necessary in order to focus on the characters themselves, but it is not insignificant. Gods and religious rituals are used to explain why the Urian society is built and functions as it does, while the geographical details provide an excellent visual for the more action-oriented parts of the novel.
Furthermore, the most interesting aspect of the world-building is the politics and intrigue of the Urian court. The nature of the Undying and the powers such a state provides has led the Council to fall into a state of decadence and greed that motivates their rebellion against Arkhalla, while demonstrating just how fragile a hold on power Arkhalla has had throughout her terror-filled reign.
Yet, not all of the novel is as worthy of praise as I’ve made it out to be. Characters like Narama, the queen’s Huntress, are shallow and one dimensional, defined by a single emotion. There’s no impetus for understanding like there is with Bel, who was not only Arkhalla’s general but also her lover and an approximation of a close friend. The other members of the Council are fashioned in the same way, so much so that the only member that truly stands out is Sin, and that’s mainly because he’s the mastermind behind the plot to dethrone Arhkalla.
In addition to this, there are several spelling and grammatical errors, forcing me to give the novel 3 out of 4 stars, despite loving it so much. It’s a must-read for both fans of epic fantasy and vampire fiction, but beware folks. There are some pretty graphic moments of violence and a few scattered sex scenes throughout the novel that may not be something parents want to expose their kids to below, maybe, 15 or so.
The Undying Queen of Ur
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