The Orphan Queen (The Orphan Queen #1)

 
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Heart-stopping fantasy with swoontastic romance
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5.0
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It took me a while to gather my thoughts on THE ORPHAN QUEEN by Jodi Meadows. It’s just one of those books that are so ridiculously good that the words to express their awesomeness don’t come. I drew a blank. I wanted to take my word doc and fill it with words through sheer force of will alone. “Here, Almighty Word Doc, take these thoughts, emotions, THE FEELS, and the oh-my-Gods and put them into a clever review!” It didn’t work.

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.
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Hard to Put Down Fantasy Fun
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3.7
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Incarnate was interesting, but I wasn’t entirely sure if it was my thing. After The Orphan Queen, I’m very much tempted to go back and try Meadows’ debut series again, because this book was so much fun. Then again, take a fantasy and add a kick butt heroine, balls, and some banter, and Christina’s generally going to be a happy camper. I thought I would like The Orphan Queen (that’s why I requested it), but I didn’t expect to like it this much.

Wilhelmina is awesome. She’s strong physically, thanks to years of training; you want her by your side if you’re battling glowmen. Wil’s also intelligent, incredibly caring, brave, and able to use magic to manipulate objects. Thankfully, Wil has flaws too, like the fact that she’s not much of a leader, even though she’s the orphaned queen of Aecor, which was taken over by the neighboring Indigo Kingdom. For all her intelligence, there also times when Wil goes on pure instinct, which can be a good or bad thing. Unlike most YA heroines, she also completely fails to notice eyes, and thus is unable to recognize a certain someone.

The Ospreys are the surviving royal orphans of Aecor, and they’re hiding out, waiting for their chance to reclaim their homeland. The queen would be the obvious choice to lead the group, but that lot falls to Patrick Lien, son of Aecor’s General. The power dynamics between Patrick and Wil were one of my favorite aspects of The Orphan Queen. They essentially represent two different philosophies of ruling, and I think it will be interesting to see what they believe by the end of the series. The little Ospreys don’t serve too much of a point in the series so far, other than allowing for some convenient infodumping as they need to be trained.

Hitting another favorite trope, Wilhelmina goes undercover as a survivor of the kingdom of Liadia, which was destroyed by Wraith (some icky evil stuff magic turns into – this is very hard to explain well, but I swear it makes sense when Jodi Meadows tells it). Throughout the course of the book, she also genderbends to go snooping around and it’s great. Undercover at the palace, she gets to go to balls and flirt with cute boys (heyyyyy James).

Meanwhile, at night, while she’s sneaking around the city planning how to reclaim her Queendom, she’s fighting and then flirting with Black Knife, this sexy young vigilante. YES PLEASE. They do excellent banter and also don’t always know if they want to kiss or kill each other. THIS WAY TO SHIP. Of course, later, there’s his identity, which I thought was predictable but still really interesting.

The world building really impressed me, since I’m a huge sucker for magic. I love the concept of the tangible wraith and it’s curious connection to magic. I’m looking forward to learning more about it in the later books. I will admit that I don’t really care that much about whether Wilhelmina gets Aecor back, but I super want to know about how the wraith will be resolved.

There were a couple of things that I found vaguely disquieting, and they’re all I can put my fingers on for what left me wanting. First, there’s this one really random scene where Undercover Wil is called to breakfast with King Terrell, and he sort of infodumps random things at her and sends her on her way. Why on earth would a king ever do this? Second and way more importantly, I’m currently not loving the development of the other female characters in the story. This is one of those cases where the other girls and women don’t seem to shine so that Wil can stand out more. I’d love to see more female characters standing out.

Cliffhanger alert, guys! Book two totally comes out the day after book one, right? No? CURSES. I NEEDS THE PRECIOUS. The Orphan Queen has some flaws, but also I loved it and desperately want more. Make of that what you will.
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Princess, spy, leader
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4.0
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What I Loved:
Jodi Meadows blew me away with her Newsoul trilogy (go pick it up, people!). I never thought she could've topped such a relatable heroine and unique setting, but she proved me wrong with THE ORPHAN QUEEN.

There are familiar fantasy elements here: dangerous magic, a princess looking to retake her kingdom, an enimagic masked vigilante, a ragtag crew of orphans. But all of these familiar elements blend together into a unique and compelling story set against a seemingly hopeless backdrop. Woven throughout the land is an encroaching magic that can't be stopped, but that certainly doesn't stem the political intrigue.

And then there's Wil's journey, which is one of self-discovery. She holds fast to her moral center; though the people she trusts pressure her to choose one course, she sticks to her what she knows is right in her heart. While keeping to her convictions, she struggles with the kind of leader she wants to be.

What Left Me Wanting More:
HOLY CLIFFHANGER. I actually gasped out loud when I read the last sentence, and then I yelled, "that can't be it!" I was torn between fury and an intense desire to build a time machine to jump forward to the sequel's release day.

The Final Verdict:
THE ORPHAN QUEEN is a delightful and engrossing fantasy tale filled with espionage, magic, and danger.
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Action, Intrigue, and Magic, Oh My!
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5.0
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What I Loved:

THE ORPHAN QUEEN is a compelling, action-packed fantasy adventure full of vigilante shenanigans, secret identities, palace intrigue, and magic that frankly terrified me once I realized what was going on. From the first page, the reader is thrust into the action, and the story remains relentlessly entertaining. There's something here for everyone--a well-constructed fantasy world complete with a rich, complex history and vivid settings, plotting, secrets, and politics for those who love Game of Thrones-esque adventures, a slow-moving romance that brings a hint of swoon to the pages, and through it all, a heroine who will capture readers and make them root for her success.

The heroine is one of the best parts of this novel. Her inner strength and convictions fuel every action she takes, and she remains true to her course even when others question her, when obstacles mount, and when the consequences of her actions make her wonder if her goal is worth the cost. Her narrative voice is unflinchingly honest and sometimes funny, and it invites the reader into her world.

The world is another strength in this story. Complex history, a fascinating mythology, and enough war and intrigue to keep any fantasy reader happy make this an enjoyable world to explore. The settings are well-imagined, and the reader will have no difficulty picturing each scene as it happens.

Finally, the mythology of magic in this story is very unique, and it makes THE ORPHAN QUEEN stand out as a fresh, compelling option for fantasy readers.

Final Verdict:

THE ORPHAN QUEEN is a relentlessly compelling fantasy adventure perfect for fans of the genre.

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