Written by Sarah Fine
Published January, 2016 by Margaret K. McElderry
Purchase: The Book Depository | Bookworld | Booktopia
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Sixteen-year-old Elli was a small child when the Elders of Kupari chose her to succeed the Valtia, the queen who wields infinitely powerful ice and fire magic. Since then, Elli has lived in the temple, surrounded by luxury and tutored by magical priests, as she prepares for the day when the Valtia perishes and the magic finds a new home in her. Elli is destined to be the most powerful Valtia to ever rule.
But when the queen dies defending the kingdom from invading warriors, the magic doesn’t enter Elli. It’s nowhere to be found.
Disgraced, Elli flees to the outlands, the home of banished criminals—some who would love to see the temple burn with all its priests inside. As she finds her footing in this new world, Elli uncovers devastating new information about the Kupari magic, those who wield it, and the prophecy that foretold her destiny. Torn between the love she has for her people and her growing loyalty to the banished, Elli struggles to understand the true role she was meant to play. But as war looms, she must align with the right side—before the kingdom and its magic are completely destroyed.
The Imposter Queen was a tempestuous journey from start to finish – a high-fantasy novel that grips you from the first very first page. It combines unique elements with familiar ones, making it not too left field for anyone not too fond of high fantasy.
“Our lives aren’t ours, darling. We are only the caretakers of this magic. We don’t use it to protect ourselves—we use it only to protect the Kupari. They call us queens, but what we really are is servants.”
The Imposter Queen is the first in a new series by Sarah Fine. Although I haven’t read any of her previous work, I am familiar with the covers and titles and I’m aware that her books are quite well-loved and received. Although The Imposter Queen was not one I’d heard much about, the pretty cover and intriguing synopsis quickly drew my interest. After reading the book, I have to say that the cover is so reflective of the story inside.
We follow Elli, a young girl of sixteen who is next in line to the throne – the next ‘Valtia’, the most powerful magic wielder in the lands of Kupara. Elli has been sheltered her whole life; plucked from her family when the flame-mark on her leg was discovered and ushered away to the temple in the city to live as a sort of ‘princess in waiting’. Although Elli would have no magic until the current Valtia, Sofia, died, she was revered by her people and coddled by all those inside the temple.
Elli is interesting. Even though she’s been brought up in the plush surrounds of the temple, and has never wanted for anything, she’s not the type of girl who demands everyone bow to her. She’s inquisitive, curious and – above all else – kind. Especially to her handmaiden, Mim, who Elli actually has romantic feelings for.
Yes, Elli is a bisexual narrator, but never once does this book dwell on the fact or treat it anything other than ‘normal’. Elli accepts her feelings and rarely does she comment on them, even inside her narrative. It is shown that Mim is quite often uncomfortable with how Elli feels about her, but Elli merely takes it in her stride, her love for Mim never failing.
The first half of the book was a whirlwind ride; one I couldn’t tear my eyes from. We’re immediately swept up into Elli’s world of magic and learning inside the temple, as well as learning all about her relationship with Mim, her Valtia Sofia and the ceremonies she’s a part of. There were some pretty interesting characters and developments – I particularly liked the Valtia, Sofia – even to the point where I had to take a moment and think to myself; Wow, this book is totally awesome.
Somewhere along the middle, though, things slowed down. While I was never disinterested (I managed to finish this book in two sittings), I did feel the pace and urgency of the story dissipating. Elli, now ‘banished’ to the Outlands, melds into the new life she’s found – a routine of grinding corn, sewing leathers and helping Oskar, someone who saved her life while she was out in the Outlands, with his icy dreams.
“When I first found you, I wasn’t affected by it, but every day, its hold on me grew stronger. And nowadays, your laugh makes me feel like I’m falling. When you look at me, I’m suddenly warm. The sight of you makes my heart speed. Do you really think the only magic in this world comes from fire and ice?”
Elli discovers that although she may not be the Valtia, as she always thought, she still has a sort of power that will put her life in danger. I don’t want to spoil too much of what we learn about her powers (half the fun is figuring it out along the way, along with the role Elli will ultimately pay) but it turns her life upside down. Elli has to figure out this new path she’s on, as well as who to trust. And it all starts with Oskar, the boy who saved her life.
Oskar is an ice-wielder, a powerful one, although it’s a secret he keeps close to his chest. I can’t say I particularly LOVED the relationship between Elli and Oskar. I mean, it was okay as far as romances go, but I wasn’t completely sold or swooning over the two of them. Another important character, fire-wielder Sig, is introduced – but don’t worry, there is no hint of a love triangle. As far as characters go, I liked Elli and a few of the supporting characters such as Raimo, but I never really warmed up to Oskar or Sig despite their huge presence in the story.
Things pick up again near the end, when Raimo finally tells everyone what’s going on. It all culminates in a final assault, which is pretty exciting. I couldn’t help but feel, however, that so much was packed into the final few chapters. After so much ‘filler’ consisting of Elli finding herself in the middle, I think it could have been evened out a little more. Even if it had made the book longer.
“I’m only a shadow compared to her. When we find her, I’ll be her Astia. Together, we’ll be perfect balance and infinite power. Together, we’ll save the Kupari.”
There is a sort of ‘epilogue-like’ chapter at the end, which both summarised and hinted at the next instalment. Things were a little hastily wrapped up in a way I wasn’t quite happy with, especially concerning Elli’s place at the end of it all.
I’ll definitely be reading the second instalment – The Cursed Queen – when it comes out next year. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed this one. Sarah Fine is a brilliant storyteller and I absolutely adored the journey she told with The Imposter Queen.