Title: The Queen of Ieflaria (Tales of Inthya Book Two)
Publisher: Ninestar Press
Author: Effie Calvin
Price: $14.99 / $5.99
After four months of difficult travel, Princess Esofi has arrived in Ieflaria — only to find that her fiance is dead and that the new Crown Princess has little interest in ruling and even less interest in marrying Esofi. But the dragons are swarming, and Esofi’s magic — and that of the battlemages who accompanied her — are Ieflaria’s only hope. Determined to make the alliance work, Esofi soon discovers that there is more to Crown Princess Adale than she had initially realized — and they both discover that there is a sinister power behind the dragon attacks, one intent on destroying the entire human world ….
I first discovered Calvin and her Tales of Inthya series when I downloaded Daughter of the Sun from netgalley. It was technically the second book in the series, but dealt with characters unconnected to The Queen of Ieflaria. As such, I had no trouble following along, and I loved it so much that I quickly added the rest of the series to my To Read list. Happily, now that I have finally had the chance to read The Queen of Ieflaria, I can report that it is just as much fun as Daughter of the Sun.
First, Esofi and Adale. Esofi was promised in marriage at the age of only three; that left her free from having to participate in court intrigues and romances, but also left her distant from her family; they saw no point in getting attached to her when she was going to leave and never return as soon as she turned eighteen. So she grew up knowing nothing but duty: to the Gods, to her royal status, and to her future home. That could have made her a boring character, but the opposite is the case: she is honorable, respectful, thoughtful, and determined to do what is best for the greatest number of people.
Adale, on the other hand, grew up largely free of responsibility. Her elder brother Albion was the ideal Crown Prince; everyone knew that, especially Adale. She far preferred the openness and freedom of the wilderness and hunting; religious services were boring, classrooms felt claustrophobic, and memorizing facts in textbooks was a chore. Now, the thought of having to rule, of having to make life-and-death decisions for other people, of possibly making a decision that gets other people hurt, gives her anxiety so bad that it borders on a panic attack.
In the hands of a lesser author, Adale could have come across as weak or even selfish. But she doesn’t. Her anxiety, her sincere fear that she will do something wrong, practically vibrates off the page. When she finally starts to pull herself together — for her own sake, for Esofi’s, and for Ieflaria’s — the reader can only cheer her on.
Then there is the world-building. The Tales of Inthya are a rare treat: a polytheistic fantasy series that treats the Gods respectfully, not as caricatured tropes. These are Deities who spent millions of years planning out creation, then willed it into existence, filled it with life, and now take an active (and largely benevolent) interest in that life. Iolar, who created humanity, is the God of law, justice, and order; His paladins travel the world, protecting the innocent and meting out true justice. Talcia is the Goddess of magic and the wilderness; dragons and unicorns are her creations, and she alone is responsible for blessing humanity with the gift of magic. Inthi is the neutroi (nonbinary) Deity of smithcraft and fire. Adranus is the God of death while His daughter Adalia is the Goddess of healing. And every Deity, no matter how minor, offers their devotees a place in the afterlife (the sole exception being the God of Dreams, who invites people into His realm every night).
Even more unusual for a polytheistic fantasy is the relationship between faith and science, on both an inidividual and collective scale. Esofi is very devout; she sincerely loves the Gods, though she wonders why none (especially Talcia) have ever appeared to her as they have so many others. Adale, in contrast, is deeply agnostic; she questions the existence of the Gods, finds any excuse to get out of attending religious services, and thinks the temples are an ostentatious waste of money. In line with that, Esofi questions the medical practices of Ieflarian healers, which rely on scientific practices that she finds blasphemous. Adale supports those practices, pointing out that there has not been a plague in Ieflaria for a century for more; but, at the same time, she cannot deny the power of Esofi’s magic, or that the temples have access to ancient knowledge they desperately need.
Also, I should mention that, while this is a hierarchical society with monarchs, nobles, merchants, and other classes, it is also one which treats women, men, and neutroi as equally capable. Anyone can marry anyone, regardless of gender; anyone can be a priest, a paladin, a healer, or a ruler. Royalty often marry with the idea of producing heirs, but even then there is always the option of The Change: a spell which can alter one person’s reproductive sex in the short term, allowing for conception. (Or even, in a case when the soul aligns with the new body, a permanent Change.)
And let’s not forget the epic dragon fights ….
If I have one complaint, it’s that the book should have been just a bit longer. Some pieces of information were unexpectedly introduced late in the story which should have come earlier; the first dragon fight felt a bit rushed; and the epilogue needed to be just a few more pages.
Those are minor quibbles, however. The Queen of Ieflaria is a terrific fantasy romance with appealing characters and detailed world-building. I can’t wait to read the next book. Highly recommended to fans of Ilona Andrews, Amanda Bouchet, Rebecca Chastain, Jolene Dawe, and Megan Derr.
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer.]