Oh my stars is this a fantastic book. Jodi… Ms. Meadows. I heart you.
First off, The Orphan Queen opens with this dedication:
If you wear smiles like armor—
If you put on personalities like clothes—
If you can’t show the world all that you are—
This book is for you.
Wow. I knew I was in trouble. I was right.
The Orphan Queen is a tale of Wilhelmina “Wil” Korte, surviving princess of a conquered kingdom called Aecor. Her people, her family, were slaughtered when she was a child after refusing to sign an alliance banning the use of magic. Several other children survived and were put into orphanages in Skyvale, the kingdom that killed her family. But they all escaped into deserted lands to regroup, calling themselves Ospreys after a bird on their former kingdoms crest. For years, the Ospreys learned to fight, to steal (to feed themselves), and to impersonate others. They forged documents, they spied on their enemies, and they formulated plans to once again claim their homeland. When Wil is tasked with impersonating a dead girl of noble birth in order to gain access to Skyvale Castle and all its secrets, she knows she can do it. She has to do it to get her throne back.
But there’s more to her trip to Skyvale than she ever anticipated.
The Wraithland, lands consumed by the supposed by-product of magic use and its grotesque caricatures of life within its borders, is closing on Skyvale. Glowmen and wraith beasts hunt the streets and only the vigilante, Black Knife, is there to help those who can’t protect themselves. Patrick, Wil’s trusted advisor and general of the Ospreys, has ulterior motives for her trip to Skyvale and demands a price higher than Wil is willing to pay. Secrets are being kept from her by her best friend, and Black Knife becomes a trusted ally in the streets of Skyvale, Wil’s only departure from the noble mask she wears at the castle. As more and more secrets are revealed, Wil second-guesses whom she can trust and what the real threats are to her family’s kingdom. But to what lengths will she go to do the right thing?
I loved The Orphan Queen so much. It’s the perfect blend of a relatable young adult voice and beautiful fantasy. The pace never lingers, and I found myself skipping tedious things (like eating or sleeping) in order to get to the next chapter.
Wil is just the perfect embodiment of a strong female protagonist. Sure, she can kick some serious tail, but that’s not what makes her strong. It’s her drive to do the right thing. She is presented with some shortcuts or to merely ‘look the other way,’ but she doesn’t. Wil knows what’s right and wrong. She knows in order to be a good queen to her people, she must stand her ground and hold true to her ideals of right and wrong. And she does. Boy, she digs in her heels, and I love it. Do all of her decisions end rosy? Nope. But she’s seventeen, and maybe a little on the impulsive side. But she thinks of her people, her kingdom, first. When she learns the true fate of magic users, flashers, like her, she knows she must do what’s right, even if it goes against everything she knows her parents would have done.
Let’s take a quick second to talk romance. Holy buttered biscuits! As Wil spreads her wings through the night streets of Skyvale, she forms an unlikely partnership with the Black Knife. Their banter is engaging, their one-up-you-isms are hilarious, and I couldn’t get enough, even if I knew who Black Knife was very early on. And let me just say, being kissed through a mask has never been hotter!
The world building of The Orphan Queen is breathtaking. Full sensory overload! From the golden sun reflecting off the western mirrors of Skyvale, to the stench of Wraith, the musk and funk of the lower caste alleys, to the urine-soaked streets (so sorry CJ LOL), to the bountiful spreads of food at the castle, it was all there. I tested, I smelled, I felt, I heard, I saw every last detail of the Indigo Kingdom and her various lands. Jodi swept me away with her vivid descriptions.
I laughed, I cheered, I shook my fist, and I cried through Wil’s journey. In the end, I nearly threw the book, but in the OMG-how-DARE-she-end-it-that-way way. And it’s true. Ms. Meadows leaves you with the sweetest, most gut-wrenching cliffhanger that you may not forgive her. Who am I kidding? Of course you will. I’m practically frothing at the mouth for the second book.
In the end, The Orphan Queen is a superb book full of heart soaked to The Feels and loss that cuts to the bone. It’s about a girl searching for herself in a world stigmatized by the misunderstanding of those who are different, like her. Wil is stuck between what she’s known to be true and what truths she learns on her own. A battle in which many, many people can relate.