This book was nothing like I expected and all the better for it.
I was expecting a classic swords and sorcery tale of epic fantasy – one with gods and warriors and monsters, a story that doesn’t let up from the beginning to the end. (After the obligatory fantasy trope of nothing happening for the first 50 pages or so.) What I got was very different: a short-sighted young woman, with no special skills other than her tenacious intelligence, ends up embroiled in a Bronze Age war between a band of nomads and The Spawn, a race of gelatinous, almost un-killable monsters. The story follow ‘Yishka’s’ struggle to find her place and live up to the expectations of the nomads that she, the goddess, will lead them to victory against the evil that threatens them.
And this is where the story veered away from what I was expecting. The War of the God Queen is not just a long list of battles and triumphs and losses (though they are there), nor is it an expose of a magic system she has to learn to conquer The Spawn (though there is magic), neither is it just another take on dirty politics (that’s there, too). A large part of the conflict is built around something more mundane – and that, paradoxically, is why I liked it.
In the struggle against the Spawn, Yishka and the nomads sacrifice a large part of their way of life: they build a city and women earn rights beyond that of being allowed to cook for the men and bear their children. It’s a nice touch, a realistic process in a fantastical setting: building a city and everything that comes with that. It’s a refreshing change to adverb-fuelled violence and destruction.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and place for the latter, but this made a refreshing break from the usual carnage found in many fantasy novels. These changes wrought by Yishka, the handmaidens (not the type in red dresses or white hoods – far from it) and the nomads, are not without loss, however. They bring resentment and conflict. Principles, roles and tradition are challenged. The role of the ‘white saviour’ is also touched upon. I thought it was very well done.
There were other things I enjoyed, too.
- I liked the writing. I’ve mentioned in other reviews that I like ‘clean’ writing with minimal descriptions that still convey their meaning.
- The characters are likeable/ unlikeable as appropriate. Also, not every character develops. I know this is not usually what teachers of writing say should happen, but it is realistic. Amir, for example. stays pretty much the same from start to end, just like some people in the real world.
- The prologue has a great twist at the end, setting up for the main story.
- And there was enough tension to keep me reading to find out how/ what happens in the last few pages.
There were a few things that I struggled with, however.
The cover. Pulpy. Not really my thing. Sorry.
The story follows on from another story by the same author (The Dulwich Horror of 1927). I haven’t read the story and the references to the Yishka’s role in that book threw me. I kept thinking that I had missed a chapter or section in this book.
Similarly, because I don’t know much about Cthulhu, whenever the Mythos came up – either directly mentioned or its influence on creature/ buildings etc – I wasn’t sure I fully appreciated it. Some of it was a bit too surreal, too alien. Maybe that was the point – the contrast between that and the Bronze Age world.
Also, as a final gripe, the nomads go from being, well, nomadic, I guess, to having the basis of a functioning city in a very short space of time. I’m not sure how quickly this could happen in reality to a Bronze Age tribe, even with the help of modern minds, but occasionally, the process felt too smooth.
With the exception of my first gripe, these are minor issues and not ones that interfered with the story too much.
I can see that some people won’t take to this book. If you don’t like the weirdness of Cthulhu; prefer your women in fantasy to be shield-maidens, wannabe shield-maidens, scantily-clad women in need of a shield-maiden, or even scheming princess who should probably be given a talking to by a shield-maiden; or want a plot that races along rather than cruises; you may want to look elsewhere. But if you want a well-written story set amongst Bronze age nomads, with sorcerers, (weird) aliens, warriors and a steady-paced plot, I’d recommend it. But you may be better off reading The Dulwich Horror of 1927 first.
And I’m looking forwards to the sequel.
You can pick up a copy of War of the God Queen on Amazon here. (Currently not available anywhere else, I believe.) And you can read about the man behind the words here.
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