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Goodreads⎮Reviewed Sep. 2017
Narrator: Kate Rudd
Length: 10 hrs and 25 mins
Publisher: Brilliance Audio⎮2016
Synopsis: King Severn Argentine’s fearsome reputation precedes him: usurper of the throne, killer of rightful heirs, ruthless punisher of traitors. Attempting to depose him, the Duke of Kiskaddon gambles…and loses. Now the duke must atone by handing over his young son, Owen, as the king’s hostage. And should his loyalty falter again, the boy will pay with his life.
Seeking allies and eluding Severn’s spies, Owen learns to survive in the court of Kingfountain. But when new evidence of his father’s betrayal threatens to seal his fate, Owen must win the vengeful king’s favor by proving his worth – through extraordinary means. And only one person can aid his desperate cause: a mysterious woman, dwelling in secrecy, who truly wields power over life, death, and destiny.
3.5 ★ Audiobook⎮ The Queen’s Poisoner struck a nerve with me. I’ve been writing this review in my head for over a week. I usually only do that when an audiobook is either very good or very bad. Otherwise, I immerse myself in the story and worry about the review after it has finished. To be clear, The Queen’s Poisoner was neither very good or very bad. In fact, it was closer to the “very good” side of things, except for one extremely huge issue. If it weren’t for this blatantly prominent elephant in the room, The Queen’s Poisoner would have received a higher rating.
In my mind, fantasy is about escapism. I want to be able to immerse myself in a world of the author’s creation and let everything else (i.e. reality) fall away. My enjoyment of The Queen’s Poisoner was marred by the glaring fact that the fantastical aspects of the story were thinly veiled versions of reality. The characters, although given [barely] original names, were replicas of historical figures with whom I’m exceedingly familiar. I’ve encountered this style of writing frequently with historical fiction, but my issue with The Queen’s Poisoner is that it was not presented as a historical fiction, but just fiction. In other words, a product of the author’s imagination.
If regurgitating history with the bare minimum of originality is what passes for fiction these days, then I want to weep for literature. You have no idea how much this grinds my gears. World building and character development are everything to fiction, especially to Fantasy. I find it incredibly lazy that Wheeler simply changed a few names and retold the War of the Roses, instead of developing his own backstory. It took the fun out of everything. Every time another bit of the kingdom’s history was revealed, I was snapped out of the story and back into reality. That is the opposite of what is supposed to happen with good Fantasy. Wheeler had the misfortune of targeting one of my pet peeves. I had the same complaint about The Glittering Court a few months ago.
The best part of The Queen’s Poisoner was the original content, which amounted to approximately 20% of the story. I thought Owen was a wonderful character. Funnily enough, I was initially worried that having an eight-year-old protagonist would be my biggest issue with the story. It ended up being the smallest, thanks to Jeff Wheeler’s natural writing ability. Even though the main character was only eight, I would not classify The Queen’s Poisoner as children’s fiction or middle grade. The reading level was much higher and Wheeler clearly intended it for an older audience.
The mystical element was Wheeler’s best work by far. It seemed to be the only original part of the whole story. I loved hearing about the history of the Kingsfountain and those with magical powers, known as the “fountain blessed”. I have no idea why Wheeler didn’t expand on this idea, instead of rehashing Plantagenet history to build his world. If I wanted more of that, I would rather read Philippa Gregory.
I get what Wheeler was trying to do here. The problem is that he just didn’t do it well enough. But playing with history is risky, especially within the Fantasy genre where the goal is to whisk the reader away from reality. I have no problem with authors using history as inspiration. George RR R Martin did it beautifully, but for Wheeler, history became a crutch. He leaned to heavily upon it and it weakened the rest of his story.
I haven’t seen many other reviewers mention the fact that most of Wheeler’s story was borrowed from history. Either they didn’t pick up on it or it didn’t bother them. It only bothered me during the “information dumping” sessions, which are normally my favorite parts. Believe it or not, I’m still playing with the idea of continuing on with this series. I’m curious to see how much the events to come will follow historical events. Hopefully, Wheeler will diverge from history and finally begin to create his own world, in more than name only.
Narration review: What can I say about Kate Rudd that I haven’t said before? Listening to her is always a pleasure. She has an uncanny ability to pinpoint the crux of a character and further develop them through her performance. Her interpretations are always spot on, particularly in this audiobook, where there were many characters of varying ages, classes, personality types, and nationalities. Rudd’s range of ability was more on display in The Queen’s Poisoner than any of her previous performances. If you are interested inThe Queen’s Poisoner, I highly recommend hearing it on audiobook. Kate Rudd will not disappoint.♣︎
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