Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Queen's Choice by Cayla Kluver

The Queen’s Choice  by Cayla Kluver


“Keep silent your screams and never look back”


       The Queen’s choice is the first installment of a Young Adult Fantasy trilogy by Cayla Kluver. The protagonist is Anya, who is the sixteen year old princess of Chrior—a magical kingdom filled with beings known as Faeries. She puts on the air of being remarkably cultured and mature for her age, though this does little to disguise the fact that she also has a taste for adventure and some reckless compulsions that lead her into trouble. Most prominently, adventures into the world of man.
     Her maturity is put to the test however when her Aunt, the Queen of the Faerie, declares that her niece will be her heir. What’s more, this news is preceded by the revelation that the Queen will soon die, though of the circumstances are unclear. Faced with the frightening  prospect of having to surrender her freedom in order to become a ruler that she is not convinced she can be, Anya sets out to the world of man in order to find her runaway cousin Zabriel in hopes of convincing him to claim his blood right and become the next ruler of Chrior in her place.
     However, the world of man—though exhilarating—is not a safe place for Faerie to tred, and Anya tragically learns how treacherous it is when she is robbed of her magic and therefore robbed of her ability to return home. With no choice but to push forward, Anya stumbles through the world with the fleeting hope that she can still find Zabriel and right the wrong she committed by fleeing her responsibilities. The travel is long and arduous, and she makes friends and enemies in the same stroke and finds the beliefs that she once defended with zeal shaken to their core.
     Something that I really enjoyed about The Queen’s Choice was how multi-dimensional the characters were. Anya in particular is far from perfect. Her entire quest is fueled by a decision she makes in the moment and rationalizes to both herself and those around her. The beliefs that she once professed to hold—especially in regard to Human/Faerie relations, which is a topic of controversy and even violence in both Chrior and the human kingdom—are constantly put the test and they do not always pass scrutiny. Furthermore, the characters around her are all shown to have fatal flaws. The age old argument of the “good man” versus the “just man” comes into question more than once, and even the noblest of characters are not without fault. In the rush of YA novels that have hit the shelves in the past decade, this honest and forthcoming depiction of the faceted aspect of human nature is not often hinted at, let alone explored in detail.
     Alas, there does come a point when this duality hinges on bipolar. Anya herself, though I appreciate her struggles, fails to ever really breakaway from this endless back and forth, and since the story is told through her perspective this fact is made especially tiresome. There were several junctures during the last leg of the book when I expected Anya to use all of the development that had been practically thrown at her to break away from her mold. Unfortunately, this never really happened in The Queen’s Choice. Her arguments at the end of the novel were no more enlightened than her arguments at the beginning. Despite the fact that she has many asides dealing with her internal crises regarding situations that force her to reexamine her ideologies over and over again, Anya disappointedly never rectifies these crises enough to revitalize her arguments. While I’m aware that this is just the first in a trilogy, I can only judge Anya’s development in this book alone—and it was a little disappointing. I found myself more intrigued by side characters like Illumina,Anya's cousin, whose strange mood swings and somber upbringing, as well as her surprising role in the plot made her far more interesting a study.
     Kluver creates a lot of scenarios and obstacles that Anya has to overcome, and more than once I feel like opportunities were wasted in regards to developing Anya’s character. This feeling was especially apparent in the last half of the book, when it seemed like Anya kept coming to the same “realizations” over and over again, but doing little to act on them. I like the fact that Anya did not start of the novel as perfect. In fact, she basically tossed aside everything that we thought we learned about her character in the first few chapters and revealed that she was not nearly as capable as she made herself out to be. And I loved the fact that she struggled with this, and that she didn’t get over it easily. She was tested and tested and tested, and the results were never favorable. However, when there is a limited amount of space in which to tell a story, I believe that you need to try to prioritize certain movements in the characters. At the end of The Queen’s Choice, I was left with the distinct impression that Kluver intends to stretch Anya’s growth thinly over the next three books. While It’s naturally that a character should grow between novels, there also should be satisfactory growth in each independent book in a series. Overall, I give Kluver kudos for making very flawed and interesting characters, but I’m also very dissatisfied with their growth. The set-up was there, but it lacked execution.
     The plot of the story is interesting enough. The reader soon learns that there is a lot more going on than just an issue of ascension, and it definitely kept me engaged enough to read half of the book in one sitting.  Though, I'm not entirely sure that this subplot needed to have existed to this extent in this novel at all. I found myself often questioning things about the Faerie culture, and the world of this universe in general. For instance, if the Bloody Road is cursed to humans, how is it that they are able to retrieve the Faerie that they hunt? It supposed to be poisonous to them, and yet there are at least two occasions in the story when humans are able to walk on it for a time(Shea, her Father, and the group of hunters who injure Anya). If the road is so dangerous, and if the governor of the human lands is so against Faerie hunting, why aren’t there guards stationed at the road? Why do the Faerie make the crossing at all, if it is so dangerous? Davic, Anya’s promised, does not, and it never appears as though he is not viewed as an adult. And yet, isn’t that what the Crossing is for—helping young Faerie become “adults”? It was almost painted as a sort of Bat/Bar Mitzvah of Faerie culture, and yet there appears to be no cultural stigma for nor participating. While I liked the idea, I feel as though it wasn’t as carefully ferreted as it should have been. Given the fact that this was already a pretty long book for the YA market, I think that Kluver could have spent a little more time in Chrior hashing out some of these issues before jumping into the main plot.
     Speaking of adulthood, only one character in this story--Shea--appears to act their age. The fact that most of the cast is in their teens is truly baffling to me. It almost seemed as though this book was written with older characters in mind, but the ages were reduced in order to make it fit with YA conventions. However, I will give Kluver credit for at least addressing this incongruity once or twice, when Anya realizes that she’s nowhere near the adult she once thought herself to be. All of this turns out to be moot however, since this is not an isolated incident. If it were just Anya, or maybe just the Faerie themselves, then maybe I could understand. Maybe I could accept the fact that she is just an exceptionally mature sixteen year old, or that Faerie mature quickly compared to humans. However, as even the human teenagers act like twenty-somethings it’s kind of difficult to maintain this logic. Don't get me wrong--I don't like to read about silly teenage anghst. I can appreciate mature and responsible, young leads. However, it would have been nice if the characters who were teenagers actually made more youthful mistakes. Whenever they did, it seemed as though they simply snapped back to mature mode, perhaps a little too quickly to be believable. Also, there’s the dangerous whiff of a love triangle that forms at the end of this story, and I abhor love triangles. Fortunately, it’s fairly muted for most of the novel.

     Overall, I did enjoy this book for what it was. I reached the halfway point very eagerly, though as I was approaching the end I realized that I wasn’t going to get the development I was looking for and I slowed down considerably. As I wrote earlier, I enjoy the different dimensions of the characters. I like the idea of the plot, and I think it could have been strengthened with a little tweaking. I will pick-up the next book in the trilogy when it comes out, though I will probably wait for the paperback edition. Though this book had issues, I want to see if the Heir trilogy holds up better as a whole than it does as independent novels. It certainly has the potential going for it, and I'm not ready to write it off for a few flaws versus the parts that I really enjoyed.

Buy, Borrow, or Bypass: If you’re intrigued by the description and other reviews of this book, I’d advise you to buy it—but do so when it’s in paperback. I bought the hardcover on a whim for the steep price of $17.99 USD, and though I did like the book I would not be willing to spend the same price on the remaining books in the trilogy. Borrow the book if you’re only mildly interested, but I wouldn’t recommend bypassing this work. It has some merit to it, and it’s a fairly easy read as well as a descent set-up for the next book.

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