If you’re looking for a standalone YA fantasy novel that’s fun, action-packed, and comes with a dash of romance, get your hands on a copy of Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte. It has undertones of a good murder mystery, which I personally find appealing, as I grew up reading culinary murder mysteries. (Those by Joanne Pence and Diane Mott Davidson come to mind.)
FDQ was the final read in my very first Book Outlet haul from back in February, and it didn’t disappoint. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but I’d be a liar if I said that didn’t factor into my purchasing decision. It 100% does—as does the title.
Who can resist the words: Four Dead Queens?
Like many other fantasy novels, FDQ has a dark background with a light-catching pile of crowns at the center. Visually, it reminds me of Holly Black’s Cruel Prince trilogy mixed with Kathryn Purdie and Lauren DeStefano.
It looks like a YA fantasy when you see it, and that’s a good thing for genre-readers like yours truly.
So what’s the story about? Here’s the blurb from the front cover:
One big lie. Two forbidden romances. Three days to catch a killer.
Four Dead Queens summary
Scholte’s novel takes place in a country called Quadara. Comprised of four quadrants—Eonia, Toria, Archia, and Ludia—each state has its own set of governing officials along with one queen. Together, all four queens live in the capital city’s palace, and it is there where they remain until the day they die.
In fact, the queens have 13 “queenly laws” they must abide by, though some are more applicable than others. For instance, for Queen Iris of Archia (the quadrant of agriculture and nature), rule one states to protect the fertile lands of Archia and uphold the society’s humble, hardworking way of life. Obviously, this rule is only relevant to Iris.
The story is written from the perspectives of each queen in third-person, and the main character, Keralie, in first-person. Kera is a teenage Torian girl under the employ of nineteen-year-old Mackiel Delore Jr, the leader of a local thieves guild. There seems to be romantic tension between the two, who’ve been friends since childhood, and the story kicks off with Mackiel having Kera lift a comms unit off an Eonist messenger leaving a municipal building.
At the story’s plot lies this particular comms unit, and what its connection to Kera is.
Narrative timeline of FDQ
From chapter to chapter, the story bounces between Kera’s point-of-view—the present—and that of each queen. At first, the queens’ perspectives give the impression that each one is being murdered one-by-one in the present, but a major plot point explains the true order of things as Kera and the Eonist messenger, Varin, race to try and save the queens from assassination.
I won’t spoil the fun, so you’ll just have to read to find out more. But Four Dead Queens is a fast-paced page-turner that keeps you guessing on what the hell is going on exactly.
Love and mystery in Four Dead Queens
If you need a bit of romance to draw you in, there is somewhat of a love triangle between Keralie, Mackiel, and Varin (swoon!) sure to help satisfy your palate.
Quadara is peculiar in that each state takes certain virtues to the extreme, thus turning them into vices. For example, Varin’s Eonist culture values logic over emotion. They’re conditioned from early childhood to not show any emotion and to value only the logical. This creates trouble between Varin and Kera, because as a Torian, Kera is extremely curious and in search of excitement and adventure, whereas Varin seems very level and subdued.
The same challenges apply to the queenly relationships since they all live under one roof. One queen is rooted in tradition and old ways, one thinks primarily of passion and entertainment, one is poised and emotionless, and one is in constant search of knowledge and betterment.
These cultural differences and societal structures make it difficult for the characters to determine why the murders are happening, who the culprit is, and how they can stop it.
Book review: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte
I gave Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte 5 stars on Goodreads. The world-building was beautiful and visual as were the different cultures and peoples within each quadrant. There was a sense of depth to the world. The history of the queens, rulerships and obstacles within the public sector (crime, poverty, scientific advancement), the various priorities for each quadrant.
Major themes involved love—including same-sex—family, tradition versus modernity, and greed. Scholte wove all of these things together nicely in her story.
Another thing I enjoyed about the book was the author’s take on her own disability in the character, Varin. It reminded me of what Leigh Bardugo did with Kaz from Six of Crows. Kaz had to use a cane to move around. Similarly, Scholte’s degenerative vision was shared with the milky-eyed Varin. It gives stories more heart when authors share their own handicaps.
If you’re partial to happy-endings, I think you’ll enjoy FDQ. I would have docked one star if it ended how I was so sure it would. It goes to show that I reached nearly the end and still wasn’t certain who the bad guy was! The book is very good at making you believe one thing and proving it otherwise.
Looking for another standalone YA fantasy? Try An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson. It’s another story with lovely world-building and the perfect amount of innocent romance.
You might also consider The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand. It’s a modern retelling of A Christmas Carol with themes of family, paranormal romance, and personal growth.