Mar 21, 2012

Book Review–Shadow Queen by Deborah Kalin

‘A Duethin stands still, Matilde. None among the Turasi will bend their neck to a fidgeter.’

Thus we are introduced to our protagonist, a young woman on the verge of becoming the leader of the squabbling Turasi Clans.  To say she is wholly unprepared for the events of the novel is an understatement. 

The Tale
Shadow Queen is a pacey political thriller in a fantasy setting.  Our protagonist Matilde is to take the throne and rule over the Turasi.  Before she can claim it, she is usurped by the leader of a renegade clan and in an effort to survive the slaughter of her entire line, offers herself in marriage. Her life hangs in the balance at almost every decision and forced to make decisions with her naïve understanding of politics, she often ends up getting into more trouble.

Kill your darlings or Oppress them
Kalin is merciless in placing her protagonist in dire straights from beginning to end.  A consequence of this, is of course, that while we are constantly on edge we are also screaming at Matilde not to be so blatantly naïve.

I love that our protagonist rarely wields a weapon, or becomes Xena Warrior princess to achieve her aims.  It is of course set against a backdrop of impending war, but Kalin has done a great job using psychological tension and the interplay between characters to ensure that neither Matilde nor the reader really have a chance to catch their breath. 

If I were to contrast this against Brandon Sanderson's latest which aims to achieve similar things ie female protagonist, more political and psychological tension than grand battles,  I’d have to say that Kalin comes out on top.

Story and Character
The world of Shadow Queen is broadly painted.  I can see Anglo Saxon influence in the Turasi,  Monghols in the Skythe Tribes and Romans in the Iltheans .  Kalin gives us sign posts rather than detailed histories.  She wants our focus on story and character.  Kalin succeeds and the result is pacey and emotionally enticing.

Matilde is believable, a young adult thrust into leadership and woefully incapable of playing the political game.  But she is a survivor and one gets the impression that she will learn, if painfully so.
Shadow Queen strikes me as a mature work, not a debut novel.  Its pace and ease of reading feels more like the work of a journeyman than a novice.  I am looking forward to more of Deborah Kalin.

This novel was provided to me at no cost by the author

awwc2012This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.

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