RogerBW's Blog

The Fiend Queen, Barbara Ann Wright 22 November 2021

2015 fantasy, last of the Katya and Starbride tetralogy. Katya and Starbride are both fighting to depose the Fiend-possessed usurper Roland, but winning that battle won't be the hardest thing either of them has to do.

Well, yes, all right. This does wrap up the personal stories; and there's tension and doubt on the way there. It doesn't drop the ball. But on the other hand the series seemed to promise so much more – a reconciliation of incompatible styles of magic, a cultural renaissance as nations merge and a political one as absolute rulers shift to a more parliamentary system – that simply doesn't happen.

What we do get is a story in multiple phases, not just a constant struggle against the same foe. Katya and Starbride fight separately through the palace and finally meet each other; then Katya's apparently killed but actually precipitated into ancient tunnels below the palace, while Starbride deals with her grief by going ever more deeply into magic; then once they get back together, there's a matter of getting Starbride back to her normal personality.

Which is not a terrible structure, and it ought to work; but for me the way Starbride fell immediately for someone's lies, raising herself towards a new Fiendish tyrant status, seemed inconsistent with what we've previously seen of her personality. Yeah, I know, she has a terribly clever presence in her head which knows where all her vulnerabilities are and is happy to play on them, but… somehow this didn't feel right for the character I've got to like over the previous three books, who's previously been very effective at resisting this kind of blandishment. There's a little more to it than "X is possessed, we need to un-possess her without damaging her", but not really all that much. And going round and round and not really getting anywhere takes quite a bit of the word count.

(There's also an unfortunate suggestion that one of the direct warning signs giving the reader a reason to be suspicious of that tempting presence is that it can choose to manifest male or female genitalia at will, a surprisingly discordant note in a series that's treated homosexuality and indeed bisexuality as entirely unremarkable.)

Katya's half of the story – as before, we alternate chapters between them – is more action-focussed, but with some delving into the history of the setting.

And then… it's done, a minor character has sacrificed the social role that her identity was tied up in but nobody seems to care, the toys are put back in the box but everything that might have lead towards a resolution rather than "things will be OK for a while" is forgotten or left to one side. The writing is decent but uninspired. After the way the quality had built up through the series I found this volume a distinct let-down. Ah well.

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Previous in series: The Kingdom Lost | Series: Katya and Starbride

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