Four Dead Queens, by Astrid Scholte
Publish Date: February 26, 2019
Published by: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Genre: YA Fantasy/Mystery
My Rating: ★★★★★ (4.5 out of 5 stars)
**I received this as an egalley from the publisher through Edelweiss in return for an honest review.**
Four Queens. A divided nation. A ruthless pickpocket. A noble messenger. And the murders that unite them.
Seventeen-year-old Keralie Corrington is one of Quadara’s most skilled thieves, but when she steals an unexpectedly valuable package from a messenger she is soon entangled in a conspiracy that leads to all four of Quadara’s queens being murdered.
With no other choices and on the run from her former employer, Keralie teams up with Varin Bollt, the Eonist messenger she stole from, and together they race to discover who has killed the queens. But when dark secrets threaten their reluctant partnership and put everything at stake, Keralie and Varin must use all their daring to stay alive and untangle the mysteries behind the nation’s four dead queens.
This book is one of those kind of books that landed in my top ten most highly-anticipated reads of 2019 as soon as I heard about it. I knew I had to get my hands on it as soon as I possibly could. Thieves and a murder mystery in a nation ruled by four queens? It sounded so intricately unique and interesting and just so up my alley that I was on edge about it – what if it turned out to be something that fell flat in the end? I’ve had that happen before – highly anticipated books turning out to be complete duds. But not so with this book. From the moment it began to the moment it ended, I was hooked.
With unapologetic characters and a richly built world of both sci-fi and fantasy, Scholte has created a story that is both tantalizing and dark. Her unique country of Quadara is made up of four quadrants, each ruled by a different queen, each different and separate from the other quadrants. From an outside point of view the idea of such separation of values and resources seems a little unhealthy to me, especially since the people of each quadrant do not always adhere to their quadrant’s system of life, or when the quadrant’s system is detrimental to its people. This separation plays a key role in the plotline, though, and is so interwoven into the characters’ lives and motives that it works well within the narrative that Scholte has created.
The plot itself is fast-paced and driven, taking place over the course of mere days. It is told in alternating points of view, with Keralie being the main protagonist and her chapters being told in first person, while the other characters – the queens of Quadara – have their chapters told in third person. It was an interesting choice, I thought, to switch between first and third person, and I honestly did not mind it, because it separated the queens from Keralie in a nicely succinct way.
Keralie starts off as this unapologetic girl who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to deny it. I loved her interactions with Varin, how she could be both flirtatious and caring towards him, and I loved how she changed over the course of the novel as she became more ingrained with the murder mystery. Her growth over the novel is wonderful, full of ups and downs, mistakes and hesitations, and in the end her view of herself and her wants changes drastically from what it was in the beginning, in a way that I feel is good and right for her as a character.
The queens are each unique and interesting in their own ways, with their personalities and desires both adhering to and contrasting with the values of their individual quadrants. They are imperfect and strong, making difficult decisions at times, and selfish ones at others. I enjoyed getting to read their perspectives, see how they both struggle and thrive as the queens of Quadara, having to abide by the rules of Queenly Law that are very strict about the way a queen lives her life.
Of course the secondary characters help make this story what it is. There is Mackiel, who is ambitious and cunning and does whatever it takes to step up in the world, and who is contrasted nicely with Varin, a stoic Eonist who secretly harbors a passion for art and beauty despite his quadrant’s disdain for emotions. I enjoyed the growing romance between Keralie and Varin – they had a wonderful amount of chemistry and despite my qualms about the length of time they know each other – again this book takes place over the course of about a week – I still ship them.
As for the storyline itself, it was a perfect blend of mystery, fantasy and sci-fi. With one quadrant, Eonia, being a technologically advanced society, the merging of their scientific achievements with the different cultures of the other quadrants brings about the main catalyst for the story, when Keralie intercepts and ingest comm chips – which hold memories that can be viewed as if they were one’s own – that contain the images of the queens’ deaths. This book is filled with mystery and suspense as you struggle to find out who the assassin is, as well soft romance and harsh betrayals. I will admit, it had me guessing the entire time, gasping when the twists appeared, and still feeling emotionally invested even when my predictions turned out to be correct. I honestly did not know who the murderer was until they were revealed, because Scholte does such a wonderful job of not giving things away (and having an unreliable narrator certainly helps), and even then there were still more twists and reveals to unexpectedly come.
In the end, this book was a dark and suspenseful read, that pulled me in from the start and was filled with so much action and intrigue it was difficult to put down. The characters are excellent, the world-building astoundingly unique, and the plotline absolutely enticing. It keeps the reader constantly guessing, with twists and turns that will have you gasping, and characters that will steal your heart or make you despise them, depending on their code of morality. All in all, this one is definitely going in my top reads for the year.