Blog Tour: The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton




Rating: 4 stars
Release Date: March 27, 2018
Publisher: Tor
Genre: adult fantasy, Shakespeare retelling
Format/Source: hardcover, from the publisher
Status: standalone

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review as part of the blog tour, which was organized & hosted by Jean Book Nerd Tours. The full tour schedule can be found HERE. Please go give my fellow tour hosts some love!

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review as part of the blog tour. This does not affect the content of my review.

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Summary:
A kingdom at risk, a crown divided, a family drenched in blood.

The erratic decisions of a prophecy-obsessed king have drained Innis Lear of its wild magic, leaving behind a trail of barren crops and despondent subjects. Enemy nations circle the once-bountiful isle, sensing its growing vulnerability, hungry to control the ideal port for all trade routes.

The king's three daughters—battle-hungry Gaela, master manipulator Reagan, and restrained, starblessed Elia—know the realm's only chance of resurrection is to crown a new sovereign, proving a strong hand can resurrect magic and defend itself. But their father will not choose an heir until the longest night of the year, when prophecies align and a poison ritual can be enacted.

Refusing to leave their future in the hands of blind faith, the daughters of Innis Lear prepare for war—but regardless of who wins the crown, the shores of Innis will weep the blood of a house divided. 

Review:
The first thing you need to know about The Queens of Innis Lear is that the writing is STELLAR (pun intended, read the book). It reads like a symphony sounds, how wilderness landscapes look, how velvet and silk feel. And it's not overly flowery with a ton of adjectives and adverbs in every sentence. But Tessa absolutely builds this world one word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time, and I felt... immersed as I read. It's very lush and descriptive and sensory and wonderful.

It's been over a decade since I read King Lear in high school so before reading Queens, I read a summary of the play so I'd remember all the major players. This isn't necessary to enjoy the book, especially if you haven't ever read or watched the play, but for me, it was a good refresher. At the same time, Queens is very much an adaptation, a loose retelling. Yes, the characters and story line up roughly—Cordelia in in King Lear is Elia in Queens. Goneril becomes Gaela. Regan to Reagan. Cornwall to Connelly. Queens has five parts that align approximately with the five acts of King Lear etc etc etc—but the story very much stands on its own. Queens is still a twisty political tale, but I love the inclusion of the different factions of religion and magic: Lear and Elia are believers in star prophecy while others on the island prefer the more oldschool wormwork, an earth magic concentrated in the land, the trees, and the water of the island, particularly the multitude of wells spread throughout the land (Tessa wrote a great post for Tor.com about creating these philosophies and picking Zodiac signs for the major characters). Additionally, the story is not told exactly as a straightforward narrative; there are also well-placed flashbacks to significant moments of the past, which makes the story feel like a puzzle in which the pieces are provided to the reader to put together in a very specific order.

As for the characters, I'm really really impressed with their development throughout the book. I think it's very easy to reduce characters to a single characteristic, the way members of the four Harry Potter houses are often diminished to being brave, loyal, smart, or ambitious (or straight up evil). It's much more difficult to create compelling characters who grow and change and have complex motivations. Queens is very much populated by the second kind, and I'm particularly excited by the way Tessa has presented the female characters. It's easy to think of Goneril and Regan of King Lear as evil, ambitious, power-grabby bitches. Gaela and Regan are definitely ambitious, but it's not shown to be a bad thing in Queens, which is absolutely how ambition (particularly ambitious women) should be not be perceived. Lear has mismanaged many aspects of Innis Lear, and Gaela wants to return Innis Lear to its former glory if not exceed it. Regan wants children with her beloved husband. I'm so glad to have a female author explore these powerful women. As much as I like Shakespeare, Lear's daughters never got to truly shine. Tessa gives them a story worthy of their power. And it's not just the Lear family that gets good writing (although nothing brings the drama like family drama!). I really like the shifting pov chapters between the sisters and Ban (oh, Ban) as well as several of the secondary characters. Every character has a goal, and they believe they're doing the right thing for themselves but also for Innis Lear. I was fascinated by the way the characters align, shift allegiances, and then realign to try to accomplish their goals.

Honestly, one of the only negatives I can say about the book has nothing to do with the story and more with the design: Queens deserves both a map (MAN, I REALLY wanted a map as I read) and, like, gorgeous endpapers or something. There are lovely designs for each chapter and for the division of parts, but with a book this pretty, it deserved more designs! ALSO A MAP OF INNIS LEAR.

King Lear is pretty dry, aside from all the murdering (sorry, Shakespeare, ily, but it's not your best), but Tessa's writing, the magic, and truly superb character development really elevate the story of The Queens of Innis Lear into a modern work of art set in a lush fantasy world. Absolutely do recommend.

Praise for The Queens of Innis Lear:
“I adore this—rich, epic, blood-soaked—a glorious and grand sweeping fantasy.” — Kate Elliott, author of The Poisoned Blade

“A gloriously symphonic, thematically rich variation on the story of the daughters of Lear. The danger of seeking certainty makes this a tale for our time; the power of truth and mercy makes it a tale for all times. Prepare to devour every word, for Innis Lear will consume you.” — Karen Lord, author of Redemption in Indigo

"Messy, beautiful, and dark, darker than Shakespeare could have dreamed." — E. K. Johnston, author of Star Wars: Ahsoka
About the Author:
Tessa Gratton is the Associate Director of Madcap Retreats and the author of the Blood Journals Series and Gods of New Asgard Series, co-author of YA writing books The Curiosities and The Anatomy of Curiosity, as well as dozens of short stories available in anthologies and on merryfates.com. Though she’s lived all over the world, she’s finally returned to her prairie roots in Kansas with her wife. Her current projects include Tremontaineat Serial Box Publishing, YA Fantasy Strange Grace coming in 2018, and her adult fantasy debut, The Queens of Innis Lear, from Tor March 27, 2018. Visit her at tessagratton.com.

Author Links:
    

Giveaway: 
Giveaway is open internationally. | Must be 13+ to Enter
5 winners will receive a copy of The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton.
Ends April 14, 2018.

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