I’m going to preface this review by stating that Four Dead Queens was one of my most anticipated reads of 2019. I was so excited for it, I even attempted one of those ARC trades on Twitter. Everyone seemed to be hyping this book, and I’d heard people herald it as the “next big YA thing“. What I actually got from Four Dead Queens was…not that.
Name: Four Dead Queens
Author: Astrid Scholte
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Release Date: February 26, 2019
Seventeen-year-old Keralie Corrington may seem harmless, but she’s, in fact, one of Quadara’s most skilled thieves and a liar. Varin, on the other hand, is an honest, upstanding citizen of Quadara’s most enlightened region, Eonia. He runs afoul of Keralie when she steals a package from him, putting his life in danger. When Varin attempts to retrieve the package, he and Keralie both find themselves entangled in a conspiracy that leaves all four of Quadara’s queens dead.
With no other choices and on the run from Keralie’s former employer, the two decide to join forces, endeavoring to discover who has killed the queens and save their own lives in the process. When their reluctant partnership blooms into a tenuous romance, they must overcome their own dark secrets in hopes of a future together that seemed impossible just days before. But first they have to stay alive and untangle the secrets behind the nation’s four dead queens.
An enthralling fast-paced murder mystery where competing agendas collide with deadly consequences, Four Dead Queens heralds the arrival of an exciting new YA talent.
Book Cover Comments
I really like this cover, actually. I’m getting sick of seeing girls who are in the middle of turning, or holding knives in their hands, on the covers of books, honestly. I think the the crowns, with that puddle of blood beneath them, look really fabulous. They definitely fit the title. Also, the teal against orange-pink is a nice color combination. My only irritation is that this cover, title, and even some of the promotion around the book implies this is high fantasy. Which it’s not.
The Actual Review
I wanted to like this book so badly. I was desperate to love this book; I’ve had a rather disappointing reading season, and I was so ready for Four Dead Queens to pull me out of my unlucky streak. I love murder mysteries, and the concept of the four queens (who are usually the main characters, let’s be real) already being dead was something that instantly drew me in.
But one of the problems with this book is that it was poorly advertised. The synopsis was, dare I say, misleading. First of all, the it says Keralie (our main character) steals a “package.” That’s a straight up lie. She steals a comm, which, if I read this correctly, is a little device on which people can record memories. In an emergency situation, our heroine (who’s an idiot, but more on that later), puts this comm on her tongue and absorbs the memory it stores, which features the queens being killed. So, it’s not a “package” it’s a piece of technology. Some of you nay-sayers may be going, “But Ava, a package could be technology” and you’re right, but when you’re anticipating this book to be high fantasy, you don’t think technology. You think a letter, or a severed head, or something interesting. Instead the “package” gets…eaten?
I don’t think this book was properly advertised because high fantasy is (almost always) “in,” but it’s more of a risk if you tell people that you’ve got a world vaguely like Panem from The Hunger Games–and that’s what Quadara is. It’s basically a mashup between “the factions” from Divergent and the Districts of THG; I don’t even remember what any of them are called except for Toria because that’s where the main character is from. But the queens all live in a palace that isn’t exactly in one of the quadrants (even the map is kind of confusing). I don’t understand why they don’t live in their own quadrants, but apparently they never leave the palace. They never see their quadrants past childhood, which is…weird. What kind of queen doesn’t live in her queendom? I dunno. Just strange.
Moving on. The queens are alive for more than half the book. Because of Keralie’s POV (by the way, this book switches between first and third person POVs like it’s no big deal and maybe it’s not to you, but that is such a huge no-no for me, I can’t stand that particular inconsistency), we’re led to believe that the queens (who are also narrators) are dead during her perspectives…it gets a little discombobulated and confusing. I was constantly wondering when this book was taking place, which really shook up the pacing for me. Also, the queens? Being alive? The title is literally Four DEAD Queens I was hoping they would be Not Alive. But instead they were narrators for more than half this book – and they weren’t interesting narrators. I will say that Scholte did a good job of making their voices distinct; based on which quadrants they were from, they all had very different personalities, and that I definitely liked. But, that’s where my amiability for these characters dropped off. The queens weren’t interesting. I wanted to roll my eyes every time one of them had a POV. Courtly intrigue is fascinating because all of the little things can snowball into big, kingdom-threatening things. But all of the queens’ problems were quite literally just little things. We’re talking “Who’s sleeping with who” and whatnot, and because there are several laws in place about queens not being able to marry, and queens having to birth a daughter before they’re forty (it’s weird, I know!), apparently who they’re banging is a BIG DEAL – too bad Scholte doesn’t succeed in making the reader care about those “big deals.” It’s like Gossip Girl in that sense, but, like, season 5 Gossip Girl, which was just a bad season.
Next up: Keralie.
I wanted to like Keralie. We start off knowing her as a “dipper” (thief, why can’t we just call her a thief) for this dude named Mackiel; they’ve got a weird relationship. He’s her boss and they seem to having this romance-that-never-gets-off-the-ground thing going on, but it’s…it’s just weird. Here’s the truth about Mackiel: he’s the K-Mart version of Kaz Brekker. I think he wears gloves and whatnot and he’s tall and thin and tries to be this edgy crime lord but the dialogue was so cheesy my lactose intolerance acted up and I wanted to barf. He calls Keralie “darling” all the time (but most often in tense situations, which, again, made me want to die), and so I had some Trying-To-Be-Rhysand vibes from him, too. And you can’t try to combine Kaz and Rhys. You just can’t. He was cringe-worthy, every time he appeared I had to hold my breath, in, like, the worst way. Also *shocking* he’s totally playing Keralie for a fool (which she totally is), and doesn’t actually seem to care about her (which doesn’t make sense because they do have history as kids so the fact that he is revealed to give no shits about her is strange, but also I might feel the same way because she is just that annoying?).
So, back to Keralie. Here’s how we’re introduced to her as per the synopsis: “Seventeen-year-old Keralie Corrington may seem harmless, but she’s, in fact, one of Quadara’s most skilled thieves and a liar.”
Already, I just can’t help the eye-rolling. “May seem harmless” “skilled thief and liar” This is the classic Mary Sue buildup all rolled into one sentence. I’m trying to understand who thought this was a good idea. Keralie has the cringiest lines (she beats even mackerel, sorry, Mackiel, in that sense), and I wanted to throw the book pretty much every time she spoke. She’s also incredibly impulsive (but not in a trained thief way, more in a shocked/confused/aways makes the wrong choice kind of way), and seems to think she’s The Shit. If I had tried to combine Inej Ghafa with Celaena Sardothien’s personality, and then try to make it mediocre on purpose, we’d find ourselves with Keralie. She’s described as a trained thief and liar, yet we barely see her do either of these things, and when she tries, she usually messes them up somehow. She thinks she’s cute, but she just isn’t. And she spends half the book feeling miserable because she needs to get this magic medicine or something for her dad, because she accidentally hurt him. Here’s where she might’ve been intriguing: we know she accidentally hurt her father, but we don’t know how, and that sparks some curiosity. But then we learn she purposely crashed her father’s ship because she literally didn’t like it (that’s the explanation we’re given: she thinks she can make a better life for her family as a thief, and also the boat smells like fish *gross* so she crashes it) and in the wreck, her father got hurt. I wanted to scream. We spent all this time trying to feel bad for you and then we learn you PURPOSELY CRASHED YOUR FAMILY’S SOURCE OF INCOME. She literally deserves all of the shitty things that happen to her and more. When I found that out, that was almost a deal-breaker: how am I supposed to sympathize with this selfish brat of a main character? (I can’t).
Next: Varin. I wanted to like Varin, but he was so boring. His biggest personality trait is boring. First, he goes along with Keralie’s every whim even though Scholte tries so hard to make it seem like doesn’t. We’re supposed to sympathize with him because he’s going to go blind by the time he’s thirty and then his quadrant is going to systematically execute him because that’s what they do because he’s “not useful.” Which…I’m pretty sure is the highest form of ableism to ever exist. Scholte doesn’t portray this is a good thing (points for her I guess?) but Eonia (the quadrant he’s from) supposedly has the highest form of technology and all that (think Erudite + The Capital), and while they can genetically manipulate stuff and things, they can’t fix a genetic mutation. And then they decide to kill that person because there’s no point to you living if you’re not perfect I guess? Again. Weird. I didn’t like that. But that’s why we’re supposed to feel bad for him: BUT HE DOESN’T EVEN SEEM TO CARE. It takes falling in love with Keralie (Even though they have 0 chemistry throughout this entire novel and she’s literally the worst) for him to be like “Oh maybe I want to live past my thirties.” He’s boring, he doesn’t think for himself, their first kiss is so anticlimactic I’m surprised he wasn’t studying his cuticles, and he eventually pins Keralie as the murderer of these four queens who finally die.
Which she actually is!
But she goes free because it’s not actually her fault. Read the book if you dare, because I can’t go through the trouble of explaining it. But, yep, Keralie is 1000% the murderer but she goes free and gets her magical medicine cure for her dad and she and Varin live happily ever after. He gets to keep his life but not his eyesight, I guess (if I were him, I’d rather die than live with Keralie, but to each their own).
Then, when everything’s been solved and tied up with a nice neat ribbon, we get an epilogue. To add another ribbon, I guess. But it’s literally the most cliche thing I’ve ever read. It’s essentially “And I didn’t know what would happen in the future, but I did know that with Varin by my side, I’d face it.” Or something to that extent. It’s basically the final voice over from every Netflix teen rom-com. That was our epilogue for one of the most hyped YA murder-mysteries of 2019. My eyes ached after that roll.
I will give Scholte this: she did a decent job of surprising me with some things. When I thought she’d done something cliche, she flipped it on me, by revealing she’d done something else (also cliche, but at least not the cliche I’d been expecting). That was the only thing that kept me reading (and the fact that I’d paid $18 for this thing). Also, there was pretty solid diversity (knocking off points for Eonia’s ableism, though, which was entirely unnecessary).
Listen Four Dead Queens was not for me. But maybe it’s for you. If you’re okay with cheesy dialogue, flat characters who deserve a shaking rather than sympathy, and some plot twists that you might not see coming, then try it. Even still, I’d say try this book, or at least read the first few chapters because people seem to adore it. I’m just one of the outliers. I think it tried to do too much and stretched itself thin because of that.