book review: the queens of innis lear

The first time I read Shakespeare’s King Lear, I hadn’t slept in about three days and so simply let myself sink into the play, hoping no one asked me any specific questions after the fact. (Spoiler: they did! I did not fare well.) This experiential immersion that I let myself fall into transported me to the moor, to the blinding, and to the madness; it was all-encompassing and demanded everything that I could give.

In a similar way, I read Tessa Gratton’s The Queens of Innis Lear with the same fervor, falling to this book with the same wholehearted, yet infinitely distracted attention span. By now, of course, I know the story of Lear and know how the various players are supposed to act and who dies when, so missing out on the major arcs of plot wasn’t as critical to my understanding of the story. (Sorry,

What was critical (and beautiful and gorgeous and all-consuming) was the mood that Tessa Gratton created within this novel. From the prose to the way the novel was structured with segments from each of the main characters’ points of view to the flashbacks that elegantly contrasted past and present, it was a lush forest of despair, of loss, of love, and of passion. It was lyrical and sweeping and captured the startling landscape of rain and moors that I found in my first reading of King Lear, and I felt steeped in a little of that madness myself. (It’s also been a very hard March, so that contributes to the overall miasma of madness.)

My sole issues came from the savior queen of the story–Elia, who has to learn how to feel and look back to the earth before she can take her rightful place as the Queen of Innis Lear. I understood rationally that she was supposed to be the one that I was rooting for, but she was too passionless, too drab and grey even at the very end against the harsh backdrop of the story of Innis Lear. Her relationship with Ban, stagnant and never changing, did nothing to help her truly grow through the story; throughout, she was always the savior queen, always the chosen one as is, with no need to grow or change. In short, she didn’t capture my attention and she certainly never held it. Ultimately, I was glad she won for herself, if only because she seemed nice and practical, which while those are great qualities for a queen and person to have, don’t make for a terribly engaging character.

Instead, I found myself drawn to Regan and Gaela, Elia’s passionate and extremely flawed sisters, and to Morimaros, the King of Aremoria, who constantly bore the struggle of king and man within himself. These characters gripped me, whether it was Gaela going to drastic lengths of take control of her own future so that she could not be the wife of some king, but be the king, or Regan and her obsessive love of Connley and her persistent despair and wrath with the loss of their children. These characters loved and grew and changed and were ripped apart by their flaws. It was glorious. I cried with Regan when Connley died and cheered fiercely with Gaela when she cut down Astore, usurping his position through skill.

Overall, this was an epic read and it made me wish that I lived on a stormy, mist- and forest-filled island in the sea, rather than in the middle of the desert. It was a tragedy that made me savor every poor choice and decision as the sisters and their island marched inexorably towards their ends.

The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton was published on March 27th, 2018 by Tor. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC! 

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