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Tuesday, April 5, 2005

The Hidden Queen

Title: The Hidden Queen
Author: Alma Alexander
Publisher: EOS (HarperCollins)
ISBN: 0060765704

A king dies during a major battle. His forces need leadership. One of the general’s digs up the king’s bastard son from the ranks of the army, and the army rallies around him. Said bastard son promptly turns around with said army, and takes over kingdom, forcing the true heir, a nine-year-old girl, to flee into hiding, until the day when she can return to claim the throne. This is plot of a thousand fantasy novels, The Hidden Queen being one of the most recent, though not really the most inspiring.

This isn’t a bad novel per se, it’s just not great. The plot holds virtually no surprises – the young queen has untapped magic powers that she can only learn to use by going to a foreign country, (because, of course,the people in her native land just don’t have the knowledge that those mysterious foreigners do). And of course, said queen is able to violate all sorts of rules and traditions while learning to use her powers, yet becomes a master quicker and more easily than anyone in memory. And in the end, she sets out for home, because, well, it’s time to go home.

If you feel as though I’ve spoiled the book for you, I haven’t.As I said, none of this is surprising…it doesn’t even FEEL surprising as a reader. Perhaps I’m just jaded, but I couldn’t suspend my disbelief enough to even identify with characters surprise at Anghara’s (the child queen in question) abilities. Actually, I had a hard time identifying with most of the characters…they all felt too much like archetypes, rather than people. Sadly,the most interesting character, at least in the beginning, is Sif, Anghara’shalf-brother and usurper of the throne. Initially, Sif seems less than thrilled with the idea that the only way he can retain power is to kill Anghara – he knows it needs to be done, but he doesn’t really seem to want to. Which creates an interesting dilemma, which is then left totally unexplored. Of course,halfway through the book, Sif becomes so frustrated that he transforms into a villain from the X-Men “I hate those muta…er…people with Sight (magic). I’m going to wipe out every muta…er…Sighted person, and my kingdom will be ruled by normal humans!” All he needs is some powered armor, and misguided biblical references,and this guy could take on Cyclops, Wolverine, and co. just fine.

In fairness to the novel – the writing itself is good. Alexander has some wonderfully descriptive passages, and the plot moves along at a reasonable pace. The world that she builds, for all of it’s stereotypical plotting, has some fairly interesting ideas...but they’re largely left unexplored. Which is sad, because I think Alexander probably has those ideas in her head, but for some reason, just didn’t put them on paper.

If you’re looking for a light, schlock-fantasy sort of read(hey, everyone is sometimes), this is probably worth the read. If you want something truly interesting and innovative…look somewhere else.