4 out of 4 stars
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The Queen of Xana by Fred Pilcher is a work of fiction that transports readers to the mystical land of Xana during the reign of Queen Julia followed by that of Queen Agatha. The narrative presents the stark differences between the rule of the two monarchs and its effect on the common people.
To celebrate Princess Agatha’s twentieth birthday, Queen Julia throws her daughter a lavish party inviting all who is prominent, including the kings and queens of other lands, to witness the event in which she would officially declare Agatha heiress to the throne. However, before the formal announcement could be made, an evil sorcerer wades through the soiree unnoticed up until he strikes the queen dead, sending the whole room into a state of panic and chaos. The evil sorcerer proceeds to cripple the kingdom with his spells as he robs it of its wealth and serenity. Under the protection of her fairy godmother, Agatha is informed that the journey to saving her people from the monstrous evil will begin when she’s able to find her prince from the vast population. These set of events usher in Queen Agatha’s reign, who is determined to restore Xana’s wealth and foster equality by empowering her people.
Pilcher did a great job describing what life was like for the commoners and how Agatha’s kindness and efforts to alleviate their plight won her the people’s approval and unrelenting support whilst isolating her from the former ruling aristocrats and those who weren’t overly keen on her ideas and autocratic rule. I loved how throughout the story (especially the beginning), I got to see the experiences that shaped Agatha’s ideals. Although I found myself in agreeance with most of her decisions and admired her wisdom and ability to read people and situations, I still found that some of her political moves and decisions were a bit hard to digest.
Agatha’s story is presented as one that has survived over many centuries through word of mouth. The author’s writing style reflects this when stating the ‘facts’ and key differences in the main versions of the same story, which allows readers to make their own interpretations and choices as to which version rings most true. Additionally, where the narrative becomes vague or may appear strange to readers of this century, the commentator (who asks to be called the Traveler) offers an explanation and, at times, opinions based on his own deductions. On my first encounter with the Traveler, I thought I’d find the commentary embedded in the narrative intrusive. However, I grew accustomed to this aspect of the book and appreciated the value it added to Agatha’s tale. Although the Traveler attempted to be objective in relaying information, his fondness for Agatha became apparent when, at times, he explains away some of her more disagreeable and questionable decisions.
Most of the characters have traits that give them some verisimilitude; however, as is common in oral literature to have heroes/heroines with embellished character traits and accomplishments, such is also true for the main characters of this novel. Queen Agatha achieves a great deal in the way of agriculture, education, and in treating those injured in battle, even though the methods she implements for the latter border as absurd. If it really were that ridiculously simple, no soldier in history would have ever succumbed to their injuries. Then, there are the children who become members of the queen’s advisory board. These children have an unbelievable amount of confidence, grace, intellect, and insight for their age. These aspects of the story remind me that although the author presents a narrative that will spark conversation in way of the characters’ political and social philosophy, not every element needs to be taken seriously given its subgenres.
All in all, I enjoyed the fantasy elements of the narrative, and the stranger aspects of Xana’s society fascinated me. I also liked that the story featured strong women in positions of power. I should mention that this novel contains adult themes suitable for a mature audience. Thus, I’d recommend this book to those interested in politics and political systems worthy of discussion presented in an adult fairy story. Less than a handful of errors made their way into the text. Therefore, I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars.
The Queen of Xana
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