The Girl of Fire and Thorns meets The Queen of the Tearling in this thrilling fantasy standalone about one girl’s unexpected rise to power (Goodreads). Released on February 21st, 2017, Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas is a powerful story about a girl overcoming impossible odds to not only survive, but to rule.
Freya was never meant be queen. Twenty third in line to the throne, she never dreamed of a life in the palace, and would much rather research in her laboratory than participate in the intrigues of court. However, when an extravagant banquet turns deadly and the king and those closest to him are poisoned, Freya suddenly finds herself on the throne. Freya may have escaped the massacre, but she is far from safe. The nobles don’t respect her, her councillors want to control her, and with the mystery of who killed the king still unsolved, Freya knows that a single mistake could cost her the kingdom – and her life. Freya is determined to survive, and that means uncovering the murderers herself. Until then, she can’t trust anyone. Not her advisors. Not the king’s dashing and enigmatic illegitimate son. Not even her own father, who always wanted the best for her, but also wanted more power for himself. As Freya’s enemies close in and her loyalties are tested, she must decide if she is ready to rule and, if so, how far she is willing to go to keep the crown (Goodreads).
Long May She Reign begins with a shocking, dark event – the mass murder (via poison) of the majority of the royal court. The result of this catastrophic event is the catapulting of Freya, a shy, eccentric girl, from 23rd in line to the throne, to Queen. She is woefully unprepared, and slightly unwilling, to assume to role of Queen, especially when doing so could (and probably will) mean her death. With this premise, one might expect action, deception and plenty of back-stabbing. And sure, there’s some backstabbing, a bit of action, and more then enough deception, yet somehow, most of the book is just downright boring. Especially when you mix in the utterly disappointing poisoning reveal (honestly, Fitzroy’s secret was more shocking than the poisoning reveal – but we’ll get to that later).
That being said, I didn’t dislike Long May She Reign. In fact, I quite liked it, though not for the reasons I expected that I would. As I mentioned, I disliked the action and clandestine aspects of this book – they felt childish and juvenile, and left me with the impression that Thomas isn’t really cut out for writing the cut-throat YA Fantasy I’ve come to enjoy, despite crafting a book that suggested it would be. I did, however, like the reflection upon human emotion and ability this book presented. Freya is eccentric, but it’s more than that – she finds being in large groups of people overwhelming (and almost terrifying), and at one point, she actually has a panic attack. Thomas’ writing of Freya’s character depicts something rarely seen in YA Fantasy – a strong female lead who struggles with her mental health (specifically anxiety), and doesn’t easily overcome her struggles. Freya doesn’t succeed in spite of her eccentricity and anxiety – she succeeds because of it. Freya doesn’t immediately become the jewel of the court – she continues to struggle with social interactions, and builds a small, close group of friends who support her through thick and thin. Her anxiety doesn’t just go away (because in real life, it doesn’t just go away), but with the help of her friends, she learns to master her anxiety when she needs to, in order to succeed. Also, Freya loves her cat, so that’s a bonus in my books.
Now, onto that utterly disappointing poisoning reveal at the end. Long May She Reign kicks off with a shocking massacre of almost the entire royal court (well, if you read the cover description not shocking, but the method of death was certainly surprising, and Freya’s avoidance of the whole mass murder was interesting). Now, with an event like this lining the earliest pages of the book, you’d expect the reveal of the perpetrator (the search for whom is Freya’s main motivation, and the mystery which propels pretty much every character in the book) to be shocking and difficult. Instead, it was just a let-down: a mishap that ended up killing far more people than the otherwise innocent perpetrator had intended. You couldn’t even hate the perpetrator, because they really hadn’t meant to kill anyone other than the King. And the other characters’ reactions – namely Freya’s – were equally disappointing. Freya, who had spent the entire book utterly focused on uncovering the mass murderer, who had sacrificed nearly everything to uncover the truth, simply forgave the perpetrator far accidentally mass murdering the entire court, including her best friend’s brother, and let her go. Because she had been nice to Freya, and had done her hair, and helped her now and again since the mass murder. I’m all for strong female characters and strong female friendships, but this was a little over the top, seriously.
Finally, the world-building was completely lacking. The supposed kingdom Freya becomes Queen of appears to consists of one city and several (referred to) country homes for members of the court (to disappear to when their characters are no longer needed). There’s no real explanation of the religion many of the characters worship, nor is there any real explanation for many of the traditions the characters adhere to. I understand this is meant to be a stand-alone novel, and cannot be expected to have as much detail as a series, but seriously, Long May She Reign was pretty bare bones when it came to world-building.
In conclusion, Long May She Reign generally failed to meet expectations, as a result of its lack of any real action, too much focus on (boring) political movement, and lack of detail. The only redeeming factor which made me enjoy this novel was Thomas’ portrayal of Freya’s social anxiety, adding a much needed discussion of mental health to the Young Adult Fantasy genre, which often lacks diverse characters (2/5).