The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton
Published: March 2018
The erratic decisions of a prophecy-obsessed king have drained Innis Lear of its wild magic, leaving behind a trail of barren crops and despondent subjects. Enemy nations circle the once-bountiful isle, sensing its growing vulnerability, hungry to control the ideal port for all trade routes.
The king’s three daughters—battle-hungry Gaela, master manipulator Reagan, and restrained, starblessed Elia—know the realm’s only chance of resurrection is to crown a new sovereign, proving a strong hand can resurrect magic and defend itself. But their father will not choose an heir until the longest night of the year, when prophecies align and a poison ritual can be enacted.
Refusing to leave their future in the hands of blind faith, the daughters of Innis Lear prepare for war—but regardless of who wins the crown, the shores of Innis will weep the blood of a house divided.
Gaela is determined to become a king of Innis Lear, and she will do whatever it takes to achieve her goal. Reagan wants nothing more than to be a mother and resorts to magic to create a child. Elia wants to do what’s best for her kingdom and the land, utilizing the stars for guidance. When their father––whose obsession with the stars’ prophecies has driven Innis Lear to ruin––is ready to name an heir for the kingdom, the stars and his daughters leave him surprised, tearing the kingdom apart instead of uniting. With husbands, kings, and diplomats from other lands all sharing their insight with the sisters, the kingdom’s fate is hurtling toward inevitable collapse if one sister does not come out as the true queen of Innis Lear.
I loathed the Shakespeare play, which the skeleton of this novel is based on. I found King Lear selfish, narcissistic, unjustifiably crazy, frustrating, and obnoxious, so I felt he and his kingdom deserved to collapse. In Gratton’s epic reimagining, I’m still deeply bothered by King Lear, but she really humanizes him––he is a king gone mad with grief, relying on one particular aspect of faith (faith in the stars) to guide his decisions, with no allowance for logic or reasoning. In many ways his madness reminded me of the elderly stuck in ruts, on the brink of dementia even. You’re frustrated, and yet you also pity.
This fantasy was more political, theoretical, gossipy, and religious than it was plot-and-action. We see each sister’s motivations, desires, and sorrows; we see the king of a neighboring country, their mother’s brother, the bastard son of an earl, and a forest witch. All of these views, all of their conversations and experiences with each other and with King Lear, really paint a full picture of the political and religious turmoil going on in Innis. I wouldn’t necessarily say I liked any particular character, as they all had their strengths and flaws, but Elia and Mars probably take the cake––they were the most calm and reasoning of the bunch, which we all know I gravitate toward even in life (haha)!
I keep bringing up religion, and it’s true, this does have religious connotations to it that anyone with any familiarity with any faith can identify with. There’s faith, and then there’s zealous passion that, more often than not, is full of corruption and blindness. King Lear is zealous. The land, the kingdom, the neighboring kingdoms, either recognize the faith of the land (working in unity with the ground, the water, the trees, the air, the stars) or respectfully none at all––Lear’s actions indicate that fervor in one aspect of the faith (in his case, the stars and only the stars) causes more famine and destruction than no faith at all. There’s respect for magic, for witches and wizards, in the lands with full or no faith, while King Lear respects only the star priests. It’s so fascinating watching all of this discussed and explored, because we can easily apply this in our world too.
The book could have cut another 100-200 pages, in my opinion, but it was still an enjoyable epic fantasy of intrigue and world-building. This is probably the first Shakespeare fantasy reimagining I’ve read that’s actually…worked.
This qualifies as book 7 of 16 in my TBR challenge.