Tuesday 28 July 2020

Queen of Coin and Whispers

Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helen Corcoran (The O’Brien Press Ltd) PB RRP $21.95 ISBN: 9781788491181

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

How would a 19-year-old newly crowned queen and her 18-year-old female spymaster navigate political nemeses, foreign interference, class disparity and mutual romantic attraction? This is the question driving Queen of Coin and Whispers, as Helen Corcoran plunges us into a medieval fantasy universe and the internal lives of conflicted Queen Aurelia (Lia) and fiesty spy Xania as they work to seize control over their unstable country.

Being a fantasy tragic, this book hooked me from the first line (‘The sheep were undeniably dead.’) and barely let me put it down until the final words. From the intriguing premise to the layered plot points, there is an element of suspense that keeps the pages turning. Gradually accelerating tension is punctuated by moments of introspection from the two protagonists, who take turns in the point-of-view spotlight.

The book offers a lot to think about for the modern-minded young adult reader. The plot plays out in a society which actively accepts the full range of sexual preference, gender, and race, yet binds its citizens in a rigid class system. Being a non-magical universe, the story should appeal to those who like the idea of a fantasy novel but are turned off by the supernatural. A warning, though, for anyone who may be distressed by descriptions of violence or torture.

The story trots out a lot of tropes that will be familiar to fantasy afficionados, but the entertainment value is undeniable. The book does suffer from unexplained and hard-to-follow time-jumps and a substantial amount of off-screen action that at times leaves the reader perplexed. With its rushed climax, it almost feels like a trilogy condensed - to its detriment - into a standalone. A strong ability to suspend disbelief is also required when it comes to Lia and Xania’s well-beyond-their-years skills and experience.

While superficially this book has relevance for the female and LGBTQI+ demographics, it is at heart a binge able fantasy spy thriller for anyone over the age of 15 and in the market for escapism.

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