Saffron Coulter has returned from the fantasy kingdom of Kena. Threatened with a stay in psychiatric care, Saffron has to make a choice: to forget about Kena and fit back into the life she’s outgrown, or pit herself against everything she’s ever known and everyone she loves.
Meanwhile in Kena, Gwen is increasingly troubled by the absence of Leoden, cruel ruler of the kingdom, and his plans for the captive worldwalkers, while Yena, still in Veksh, must confront the deposed Kadeja. What is their endgame? Who can they trust? And what will happen when Leoden returns?
This book continues the story of Saffi, Yena, Gwen and friends, following on directly from the events at the end of An Accident of Stars. This is not a book to read if you haven't read the prequel as pretty much all of the story depends on what went before it. In A Tyranny of Queens we follow each of the characters as we find out first what happens next and then how everything wraps up.
That was the thing I didn't expect about A Tyranny of Queens. I went into it assuming it was book two of a trilogy and, as I was approaching the climax/end, realised that it was going to wrap up too much of the main plot to leave much for a book three. And then it felt like it was over too quickly, with everything wrapping up a book earlier than I originally expected. This is partly my own fault for not realising this was a duology but it's also an effect that was amplified by the opening of A Tyranny of Queens being a bit slow. I was mostly interested in Saffi's story — initially back on Earth — but more time was spent on what was going on back in Kena, not all of which was as interesting, initially (although it was all ultimately relevant to the overarching plot).
The other thing was, I didn't find the overarching plot across the two books as innovative as I would have liked. Most of the interesting and exceptional elements were in the social worldbuilding (not to say that the physical worldbuilding wasn't also interesting). The overarching plot wasn't boring but kind of didn't go far enough to be really interesting. Part of it was interrogating the portal fantasy premise, but part of it could have dealt at least a little bit with colonial ideas, or at least have given us more of a historical context for <spoilers redacted>, but didn't. The antagonist side of the story was fine, but there just could have been... more.
Basically, I liked this book but I didn't love it. I'm glad I read it because I enjoyed seeing how everything was resolved and what Saffi ultimately decided to do with her life. Also, it kept my interest enough that at no point did I actually put it down to go read something else.
I recommend A Tyranny of Queens to readers who enjoyed An Accident of Stars and I recommend the whole Manifold Worlds series to fans of portal fantasy or readers who like seeing less conventional gender roles and family groupings in their fantasy stories. Indeed, the latter is one of the really strong points of the series. Although I don't expect a direct sequel, I would be more than happy to read more books set in the same universe since there's a lot of scope there to tell a lot of different stories.
4 / 5 stars
First published: March 2017, Angry Robot
Series: Manifold Worlds book 2 of 2
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge