Down With The Matriarchy
The dark YA fantasy tale of a brutal matriarchy, and its vicious method of choosing its rulers.
On an island kingdom steeped in magic and sadistic tradition, triplet girls are always born to the ruling queen. When they come of age, it is expected that these young queens battle each other to the death for the right to rule. This generation’s sisters are Katherine the poisoner, Arsinole the naturalist, and Mirabella the elemental—each representing a sub-peoples who possess their same abilities. And unfortunately for some, these queens are far from evenly matched…
What I Liked:
The beginning provides a good hook and sets the darker tone of the overarching story. The present-tense POVs alternate primarily between each queen, although there’s a sprinkling of side character perspectives as well—which all work and feel needed to deepen reader insight.
The complexity paid to the relationship of the three sisters holds solid interest. As they lived together and knew each other until they were six years old, there are variable memories some of them are able to dredge up. And despite the girls having been trained to hate each other so it will be easier to kill their siblings when the time comes, its clear that won’t be so simple. (This really brings the logic of these traditions into question, but this first installment doesn’t go about answering many of them. It may, however, drive readers to hang on further into the series in hopes of sorting out the reasoning.)
I have to applaud the twist at the very end. This reader didn’t see it coming, and it effectively heightened interest. It may very well make up the minds of readers on the fence about reading the next book in the series.
What Didn’t Work For Me:
-Despite their titles, the three queens turn out to have very little agency unto themselves. It becomes clear partway through that the girls are little more than pawns, being pushed about by those with actual power within their factions. There is some growth as they each attempt to assert control over their own fates, but ultimately a sense of futility. And this book’s lack of explanations regarding the magic system, traditions, origins, etc. may further frustrate that sense for readers who prefer more thorough worldbuilding.
-The pacing doesn’t pick up until the last 15-20% or so, and then it moves at near breakneck speed. While it was nice to see some action, it was also a bit jarring in effect after so much prequel-like setup with little forward momentum. If it were slow because of lush worldbuilding, that would have been easier to accept. But instead the bogging down seems more from an abundance of mundane day-to-day doings than on construction of the fantasy setting and/or rules to the magic system.
-The voices of the three queens sometimes lost their distinction, particularly through the more slouching middle of the story. This tended to exacerbate the lack of connection I was able to feel toward any of them. To the point where I pitied each girl—for slightly different reasons—but can’t say I ultimately liked or was rooting for any of them. (Except maybe Arsinole toward the end. I genuinely wanted her to escape the story entirely. But mostly because her page time seemed largely tossed away to instead focus on the romantic drama of Jules and Joseph.)
YA Content Notes:
* This reader is not AT ALL a fan of the sudden sex-with-a-stranger scene. Not just because it’s difficult to relate to (I do recognize that some people’s sexuality is that flexible). It's the lack of consent. Anyone half-drowned, hypothermic, feverish, and delirious to the point where they don't recognize reality is NOT able to give consent. Male rape is still rape. So, he’s confused when he does come to and admits he kind of liked it, but feels horrible he (sort of?) cheated on his fiancé… but there’s something nebulous going on about magical interference in free will…? Yeah, no.
If a male char had taken advantage of a female char like this, I can't see it going over well.
*Also, absolutely no mention or regard is paid to contraception at any point—despite two of the three queens being sexually active. But obviously, this is a far lesser issue compared with the rape.
Intriguing premise and promisingly dysfunctional sibling relationships, but overall probably more enjoyable for fans of romantic drama/insta-love/love-triangles who don’t mind their fantasy worldbuilding on the sparse side.