Review: Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

September 4, 2017 Diversity 1, Reviews 0 ★★★★

Review: Long May She Reign by Rhiannon ThomasLong May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas
Published by HarperTeen on February 21, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Fantasy
Pages: 432
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via Edelweiss
The Girl of Fire and Thorns meets The Queen of the Tearling in this thrilling fantasy standalone about one girl’s unexpected rise to power.

Freya was never meant be queen. Twenty third in line to the throne, she never dreamed of a life in the palace, and would much rather research in her laboratory than participate in the intrigues of court. However, when an extravagant banquet turns deadly and the king and those closest to him are poisoned, Freya suddenly finds herself on the throne.

Freya may have escaped the massacre, but she is far from safe. The nobles don’t respect her, her councillors want to control her, and with the mystery of who killed the king still unsolved, Freya knows that a single mistake could cost her the kingdom – and her life.

Freya is determined to survive, and that means uncovering the murderers herself. Until then, she can’t trust anyone. Not her advisors. Not the king’s dashing and enigmatic illegitimate son. Not even her own father, who always wanted the best for her, but also wanted more power for himself.

As Freya’s enemies close in and her loyalties are tested, she must decide if she is ready to rule and, if so, how far she is willing to go to keep the crown.

Diversity Rating: 2 – It’s a Start!

Racial-Ethnic: 0
Disability: 4 (Freya has panic attacks and Madeleine has depression)
Intersectionality: 3 (Freya has to confront the massive economic class gap created by her greedy predecessors)

Really, I think I’ve made it clear that Thomas’s Wicked Thing duology, a Sleeping Beauty retelling that doesn’t skimp on the dragons, was my thing thanks to its character-driven first book and defiance of typical fantasy tropes. Of course I was going to read Long May She Reign! And ooooooh, it was just as good as I was expecting. You know that Beyonce gif from one of her songs that has her singing “Who run the world? GIRLS!” with an explosion happening behind her? Pretty much Long May She Reign in a nutshell.

Freya is me except science-y where I’m bookish. I escape crowds and social obligations that give me anxiety by hiding out somewhere with a book; Freya does the same but escapes to go conduct scientific experiments in her labs instead. Her near-panic attack at the king’s birthday dinner is what saves her from dying with hundreds of others of poisoned cake, but it’s also what lands her on the throne as Queen Freya the First.

There is a reason I prefer English/history over science/math, readers. I’m not gonna end up queen against my will!

The mental illness rep present with Freya and Madeleine (another survivor of the mass poisoning as well as an advisor and a new but close friend to Freya) is wonderful. Freya has her anxiety-induced panic attacks, which resonated with my own experiences. Then we have Madeleine, the most genuine, kindly, down-to-earth noblewoman–and this wonderful human being lives with depression that saved her life by keeping her from court.

I love Madeleine both as her own character and as a character atypical of most representations of depression in YA. Most depictions see them sad all the time or lifeless or even angry, but none of those words apply to a woman who makes a regular habit of helping out at the capital city’s orphanage and acts as personal stylist to the queen. Depression has many faces and the battle to get up in the morning isn’t always visible. Madeleine’s sure isn’t!

Though she’s surrounded with advisors, many of them male, Freya’s most dedicated allies are two women: Madeleine and her best friend Naomi. The friendship between the three of them–especially the one that quickly grows between Freya and Madeleine–is at the very core of Long May She Reign and they stick together every step of the way. Freya still consults with and considers her proper advisors, but it’s Naomi and Madeleine who really shape her as queen and give her the strength to rule her new country in a way that will right the wrongs of those who came before her. Her incredible character growth from mousey girl to true queen is because of them.

Yeah, there’s also Freya’s love interest Fitzroy and he’s okay, but Freya and her friends though.

Side note: it’s incredible how everyone around Freya is so genuine and yet so untrustworthy. It’s a nice change of pace from it being clear-cut who can and can’t be trusted in YA fantasy with court intrigue.

Naturally, Freya isn’t for want of opponents to her rule. The king’s best friend Torsten Wolff (who happens to be Madeleine’s cousin) also survived the massacre. In his grief, he sees Freya defying all the established rules, as seen in her willingness to listen to the Gustavites who want to see the end of the avaricious noble class, and suspects Freya was the one to poison the court in order to take the throne. We the reader know he’s wrong, but he’s also right in a way? Well, right in that he believes he’s doing the right thing for his country and is very genuine in that belief.

The point: both sides are certain they’re in the right and “right” is a complicated idea in Freya’s world after decades of decadence, oppression, and inequality. Freya is looking toward the future and Torsten is defending the world he knew. Both entirely understandable.

If you want a plot-driven book, you’re looking in the wrong place because Long May She Reign is about the characters. As Freya grows to fit her throne, things plod along, leaving anyone who isn’t invested in her, Naomi, and Madeleine bored. Perhaps it’s because of that slow pacing, but Torsten’s rebellion seems to come together ridiculously quickly? It’s not easy to “feel” how much time passes between Torsten’s attempt to overthrow her the first time and his return at the climax with much greater numbers for a second try.

I already own Thomas’s Wicked Thing duology and it doesn’t seem my county public library system has any of her books, so I think it’s time I requested they acquire both her previous books and Long May She Reign. Though not terribly diverse in representation, Thomas’s fantasy novels are fun, interesting, and can enchant even a fantasy-ambivalent reader like me!

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