THE DRAGON QUEEN by Alice Borchardt
Adult Fantasy

This book was splendid in the story-telling sense. The story was epic and magical and engaging. Also, this is, by far, the best Guinevere I have encountered in modern fiction so far. She was strong but not brass, brave but not stupid, powerful yet humble, compassionate but not weak, feminine yet full of agency. Perhaps what I liked the most about her was that she was in communion with animals and gods alike and knew her place in the wheel of existence. She was wise like that, but never overbearingly so. I loved her. I wanted to *be* her.

Arthur I also liked very much, and I liked that this was a tortured Arthur who had suffered child abuse at the hands of her horrible queen mother Igrane (*the* worst evil queen ever) but was still good and noble and could not lie and never feared danger. I liked his relationship with his father, Uther, the High King, which was refreshingly healthy and loving. Merlin I hated. This is a book with a bad Merlin in it, which I don’t like as a trope. I much prefer my Merlins to be good and Gandalf-like, but in this case it worked to have him be so evil and act as the villain. The black magic he wrought was one of the sickest and most horrifying ones I’ve ever read in a story.

Alice Borchardt seems to know her history well, so much so in fact that it’s almost like if she lived in this period of time (Roman – Saxon) in a past life. I, for one, appreciated all of the extraneous detail relating to the customs and mores of the time because it made the world-building that much better.

The magic system in this book was refreshingly deep and believable. So many magic systems in recent fantasy books are light and superficial, as if they had been thought up in brainstorming sessions instead of being fully inspired. Not so with Borchardt’s story; the magic here seemed inspired by the author’s own psyche and thus, was multilayered and poliphacetic, changeable and malleable but also essentially true to its own core.

I also liked that an existencial and historical struggle was hinted at: the convergence between paganism and Christianity, if there can be a convergence at all. It was only hinted at here but I wouldn’t mind if this theme in particular were elaborated more in the second book (The Raven Warrior) because it is of particular interest to me. On some level I think it was also of particular interest to Borchardt, as well. I am a huge fan of Anne Rice’s (Alice Borchardt’s sister) Vampire Chronicles, and Rice definitely waxes philosophical about her own struggles with different faith systems and beliefs in her own fiction, much more so than Borchardt, who chose to focus more on the story. But I wouldn’t have minded if she had expanded on this in her fiction, just like her sister did. But then again, I am of a philosophical bent and like these kinds of tangents.

Why the three-star rating, then, if I liked the book so much? Well, the story was golden, but the writing was confusing at times, especially at the beginning and end. Sometimes it was almost stream-of-consciousness like, and I got lost and confused. At other times, when a character referred to somebody else as ‘she’, for example, I didn’t know who they were talking about, because there were several ‘she’s’ they could have been referring to. So some more specificity in this and other similar instances would have been appreciated. Sometimes, also, the writing got too dream-like, too airy fairy and dreamy…and perhaps more concrete writing would have served the book better overall. I also suspect this book could have had tighter editing. I know for a fact Anne Rice is not a fan of people editing her writing, and I don’t know if Alice Borchardt felt the same as her sister does in this matter, but I for one think good editing is absolutely crucial in any book.

Putting this aside, though, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to reading the second and final installment. This was meant to be a trilogy, but unfortunately, the author died from illness before she could complete the third book, so two books is all we have. I will read her other books as well, though. She’s a gem of a story-teller, at least in my estimation.

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