How many YA fantasy novels have you read?
Because I think your enjoyment of The Orphan Queen depends on your answer. This book is not terrible, it is just completely unremarkable. It contains familiar elements that you may recognize from other YA fantasy-lite series – Throne of Glass, Shadow and Bone and the more recent Red Queen, to name but a few.
It’s a deceptively short novel – my ipad averaged 1% progression per page – so I’m surprised the final copy rolls in at 400 pages. Our protagonist is Wilhelmina, the former heir to the throne of her homeland. However, her kingdom was conquered and now she is an Osprey – a kind of street gang of thieves. Assuming the identity of nobles from a wraith-fallen kingdom, her and Melanie infiltrate the Skyvale palace.
Okay, so first we have the good old ban on magic – a favourite of fantasy authors. Then we have royal politics and a throne at the centre of a dispute about who belongs on it. Then we have the heroine pretending to be someone else whilst socializing with the royal enemy – which I’m sure, if I remember correctly, happens in some form in Throne of Glass, Shadow and Bone and Red Queen.
Plus, the whole infiltration of the palace seems very ill-planned. I got the sense that Wilhelmina and Melanie didn’t have a damn clue what they were doing. They turned up, put on pretty gowns, danced at a ball, disliked bitchy women with better curves and flirted with soldiers. If any useful information about the kingdom happened to fall in their laps while they were busy twirling around and drinking wine, then it wasn’t because of anything clever or sneaky that they did.
The most exciting and unique things about this novel are the least explored. One being the Ospreys, and the other being the masked vigilante called The Black Knife. Neither get much page time. And I suppose I should mention at some point that there is almost zero world-building. The closest thing we get to that is when Connor and Ezra recite the history of magic and the kingdoms in chapter one; it feels like a very awkward way to try and slip in some world background.
I am thankful for the lack of romance, but the plot just feels so recycled and Wilhelmina never inspired any kind of emotion in me. Also, this is just speculation so take it with a pinch of salt, but I definitely see potential for a future love triangle brewing in here.
Recommended for YA fantasy newcomers or those who genuinely do enjoy reading similar things again and again.