Review: The Vanished Queen by Lisbeth Campbell

Alexis holds a fall kombucha bottle next to a library copy of The Vanished Queen.

Alexis:

The Vanished Queen is an adult fantasy that starts off with a bang. The prologue delves into a theft: a slightly drunk Anza breaks into a locked room in a library to steal a journal. 

The Vanished Queen follows three different POVs. Anza is an archer and a part of the resistance. After the king put her father to death and she found the missing queen’s journal, Anza is dead set on fighting against the cruel and tyrannical king, Karolje. 

Prince Esvar is the younger son of Karolje and Mirantha, the vanished queen who is presumed dead. He hates his father’s regime and is desperate to find a way to defy him.  

And the third POV is Mirantha, the vanished queen herself. Her story is set in the past, leading up to her disappearance.

To be honest, I considered DNFing this about 100 pages in. The plot was very slow, and despite the synopsis mentioning that Anza and Esvar end up working together, that doesn’t even happen until the halfway point of the book.

But after that, the plot picks up. Schemes and planning happen. The political intrigue thickens and the stakes grow higher. In the beginning, a lot of the characters feel flat, but once the plot picks up, they come to life a little more and I became fully invested in the story. Karolje was such a terrible king and soulless person that I was ready to see him be brought down.

What I liked about this book:

-High stakes

-Mirantha’s chapters

-Themes of love and justice

-Esvar gives me Prince Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender vibes/Dorian from Throne of Glass vibes 

-Bisexuality rep: Anza is bisexual 

-High fantasy world without magic  

What I didn’t like as much:

-I often felt like the characters were being held at a distance; I wanted to be more in their heads

-Slow pacing 

The first half of this book is three stars and the latter half is higher.

VERDICT: 👑👑👑👑/5

Trigger warnings:
Death, including hangings, mentions of suicice, rape, violence/blood, torture, coded anti-semitism, domestic abuse, forced abortion 

Review: We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

Alexis:

We Hunt the Flame is a set in an Arabic-inspired fantasy world. It follows two main characters: Zafira, also known as the Hunter, who hunts to feed her village; and Nasir, the Prince of Arawiya, who is a trained assassin. This book is very The Hunger Games meets Katara and Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender.

What I liked: I loved the world that Faizal created. I liked how she described the clothing, and especially how she described the food.

This book also has a strong undercurrent of feminism which I liked; Zafira’s homeland, Demenhur, is sexist, and would punish Zafira if they knew she was actually a woman huntress. Throughout the book, she has to battle sexism in order to prove herself.

As I mentioned, the book follows both Zafira and Nasir. I enjoyed reading from both of their perspectives, and I appreciated that the book was in third person.

My favorite part was the last quarter of the book and the ending. Faizal had some really awesome plot twists that I didn’t see coming. I feel like the plot really came together at the end of the book, and I have high hopes that the next book in the series will take a step up.

What I disliked: While I loved the setting, this book could have used a glossary. In the beginning, I struggled to understand some of the terms that Faizal used, since I don’t have a background in Arabic. I figured them out through context clues, but a glossary would have been useful.

My least favorite part of the book was actually a character. This character plays a role in the beginning of the book and dies a little later on, and it felt completely out of place for me. The grieving over the character’s death didn’t last nearly long enough, and the character’s role in the story confused me. I felt like it could’ve been cut out completely and the book would have been better for it.

In addition, the story dragged on in the beginning and the middle of the book. Plot wise, it was a little lost. It didn’t really pick up until the end.

There were also some minor things with Faizal’s writing that I took issue with. Some of her phrasing felt off to me. The dialogue in the beginning felt a little stiff and too explanatory. Faizal also writes sentences like, “‘You scared me,’ Zafira exclaimed in a whisper” (112). She also has a tendency to use a poetry-like spacing in order to emphasize a phrase, and while I liked this the first two times, it ended up drawing me out of the story the more she used it.

Sometimes I would have to go back and re-read a section because I thought the characters were doing one thing, only for them to be doing something else. I think Faizal focused a little too much on describing everything. The book almost could’ve started 100 pages in.

And my last note: Nasir was just a little too Zuko, backstory, scar, and all. This book was supposed to explore his character arc by the end, but we already had too many hints of his underlying feelings for it to really pack a punch.

Overall, I wasn’t a huge fan of the beginning of the book, but I really enjoyed the ending!

VERDICT: 3 stars

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