Review: The Queen of Ieflaria

The Queen of Ieflaria by Effie Calvin is definitely in my wheelhouse: casual fantasy setting, quick read, adorable same-sex romance. Very PG, but still I liked it for much the same reasons I liked Lady of Thornes: the romance felt natural. The characters felt real.

The premise is simple: Princess Esofi of Rho Diane has been bethrothed to Albion of Ieflaria, but when she arrives at the Ieflarian palace she learns that Albion is dead and she's instead to marry the Princess Adale. Except Adale doesn't want to get married. As "the spare," she never bent her attention to her repsonsibilies and feels woefully unprepared to be co-ruler. Esofi brings with her "Battlemages" and magic, which Ieflaria has very little of, and which Ieflaria needs to stave off waves of attacks by dragons.

The best part of the book is watching Adale try to get a grip on Esofi. Esofi is a pro-magic bigot who seems to be all ruffles and lace and feminine, queenly purpose, whereas Adale, as a horsewoman and huntress, imagines herself at least capable of handling herself in a fight. And then Esofi does something that completely knocks Adale's understanding, and the courtship begins in earnest.

The part of the book that didn't work for me is the used furniture covered in layers of anachronisms. The whole world has ten primary gods, who apparently show up often enough that nobody doubts they exist. The God of Healing is somewhat unreliable, and Ieflaria is experimenting with the heresies known as "disinfectants" and "food inspections," which upsets Esofi greatly and presents a conflict that Calvin doesn't use very effectively. Calvin uses modern and anachronistic terms which don't quite add up in the context and setting. Calvin also presents a fantasyland of "this is the sort of past liberals want": everyone is a little bisexual, there's a spell that lets you change sex for a time and "everyone" tries it out at least once, some people are just born androgynous or enby or "neutroi" and nobody blinks an eye at it, and the only question about two princesses marrying is will either one be able to use the sex-change spell and hold onto a male body long enough to do the deed and produce an heir?

It was a fun read, and I suspect I'll read the sequel. The characterizations are excellent, even for secondary characters like Esofi's ladies-in-waiting and Adale's extended family, and that's mostly what I come to a book for: to see people of goodwill but different premises struggling to figure out how to work together and maybe fall in love in the process.

Earlier: I am a prophet of doom!

Later: <i>Honest Impulses</i>, a Post-Mortem