Fantasy Book Review | The True Queen by Zen Cho

The True Queen book cover
Ace Publishers · March 2019 · 384 pages


4 starsDear Reader,

I reviewed Cho’s very first novel a few weeks ago – Sorcerer to the Crown and I was very impressed by it.  This second book in the series lacks some of the qualities that I loved about the first book but is well worth reading.

What I Like About The Book

Cho is a masterful storyteller.  Her stories are well crafted.  It contains action, adventure, and even some mystery and intrigue.  The novel starts off with a problem – what to do about two young women, sisters, found on Janda Baik and taken in by the powerful witch, Mak Genggang, who we met in the first novel. And then, progresses at just the right pace to the climax of the novel – the installation of the true queen on the fairy throne – and then winds down with a surprising, if somewhat off-topic, conclusion. Cho enchants you with her ability to take minor events and make them leave you wanting more.

The story is unlike any others on the market.  As I have established, I read a lot and mostly in this genre, and I have not come across anything more than remotely like this story.  It tackles tough subjects like discrimination and women’s rights in an old-fashioned world, an exotic world, and a fairy world unlike one that I can recall.  It’s refreshing when you read so much, to come across something that is so different as well as well-written.

Prunella Wythe.  The Sorceress Royal is such a fun character.  She breaks down barriers, out thinks her foes, and creates magic with flair.  She is a modern woman in an old-fashioned world, and you can’t help but cheer her on every step of the way.  Unfortunately, we do not see as much of her in this novel as in the first, and that is a disappointment.

What I Wish

The themes had progressed from the first novel to the second novel.  One of the major themes in the first novel was women’s rights.  Women were not allowed to use magic in this alternate Victorian world that is the setting of the novels but at the end of the fist novel, Prunella was made the Sorceress Royal and started a magic school for girls.  The chance at equality seemed well on its way.  But this theme is barely touched in the second novel even though almost all of the characters are female.

The unique way the first novel was written had continued.  One of the things I find so unique about the first novel was that written in the more formal language of such Victorian classics as Middlemarch and Wuthering Heights.  It made it a little cumbersome to read until you got used to it, but I thought it was a very thoughtful and smart choice as it added to the setting and really brought you in to that time period.  The latest novel was written in modern day language which was easy to read but I felt sad losing that feature that was in the first novel.

The moment it all came together had been more tightly written.  I didn’t mind that I figured out the gist of the mystery of the two sisters early in the book but what I was disappointed in was that once the main characters had all the pieces it took them too long to put it all together.  What should have been an “Ah ha” moment turned into a confused moment that went on and on for way too long.  I don’t want to give anything away, but you will know what I am referring to once you get there.

To Read Or Not To Read

I  feel that Zen Cho is an amazing new writer and an incredible new find for my bookshelves. Her novels offer a new kind of fantasy tale that has much beneath its surfaces. NPR describes her as “Witty, Wise, and Wonderful,” as seen on the cover and, though that reminds me of Prof. Asher Fleming’s description of Paris Geller on Gilmore Girls (“wise, willful, and wonderful, “which admittedly makes me giggle), I agree.

2 Replies to “Fantasy Book Review | The True Queen by Zen Cho”

    1. Thank you so much! She’s a very smart writer but not over-your-head kind of smart and I like that.

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