The Queen of Ieflaria
Once in a while, you find a book that does exactly what it said it was going to do. The Queen of Ieflaria is one of those books. I bought it based on a Tumblr post which had the following summary, verbatim: “two princesses attempt to fight dragons and get married.” That’s what I wanted, and that’s exactly what I got. If you stopped reading and one-clicked based solely on that description, you won’t be disappointed.
(The post also contained the phrase “Will turn all your other books gay!” but all my other books were already gay, so … cannot confirm or deny.)
The story starts when Princess Esofi of Rhodia arrives in the kingdom of Ieflaria to make good on her betrothal to the crown prince. There’s just one problem: since she left Rhodia, the prince has died. If Esofi wants to stay, she’ll have to marry the new heir to the throne, Crown Princess Adale.
Adale never wanted or expected to be queen. She has a minor drinking problem, a group of decadent young friends who egg her on, and an inferiority complex that can be seen from space. Long story short, she has a lot of growing up to do before she’s ready to be anybody’s queen — or wife. At first she panics, but as she and Esofi grow closer, she begins to warm up to the idea that she could become a good ruler and still be herself.
Meanwhile, there’s a magical duel, a few balls, and Adale’s horrible twin cousins keep trying to seduce Esofi so one of them can become heir to the throne instead. And then the dragons attack.
Now, I’m picky about my dragon books. I don’t judge a book for not containing dragons (much), but if you say you do and then you don’t, we can’t be friends. I’ve DNF-ed books and when my housemate asked why, all I said was “Not enough dragons.” In this one, the dragons are only a rumor until about halfway through, but once they do appear, they’re essential to the plot and the (too delightful to spoil) ending. Dragon content rating: acceptable.
Even with all the shenanigans going on around them, Adale and Esofi’s relationship forms the emotional core of the book. At first glance, they’re a fairly stereotypical butch/femme pairing: Adale rides, hunts, and wears breeches, while Esofi wears fluffy dresses, embroiders, and worries about diplomacy. Then, just when you think you’ve got them figured out, one of Adale’s friends challenges Esofi to a duel. Instead of naming a champion, she rolls up her ruffled sleeves and hands him his ass. Turns out, she’s one of the most powerful battle mages in the world. She’s also very well trained in tactics, knows everyone in politics, and speaks multiple languages. You know, just princess stuff.
Is it obvious yet how much I love Esofi? Adale is endearing and relatable, but Esofi is a warrior diplomat in pink lace. She’s the embodiment of “looks like a cinnamon roll but could actually kill you,” and I am Here For It.
Other things I am officially Here For include:
- pansexuality as a cultural paradigm (“Like most people, Esofi didn’t have a strong preference as to the gender of the one she married.”)
- nonbinary gender roles (the culture has three genders, men, women, and neutrois)
- characters demonstrating their love and compatibility by spending time in a library together
As much as I did enjoy it, this isn’t a perfect book. While Adale goes through a believable and satisfying arc from panicked child to responsible crown princess, Esofi doesn’t change much. She loosens up a little, but that’s all. There’s also not a lot of depth to the background characters: Adale’s parents are regal, her friends are flighty, and Esofi’s ladies bicker a lot. The Terrible Twins are pretty much cardboard cutouts of mean rich kids, and I was never seriously concerned that Esofi would pick them over Adale.
Some deeper issues are mentioned, but in the end aren’t really addressed. Adale drinks too much and blames herself for her brother’s death. Esofi grew up in an emotionally (and possibly physically) abusive home. The story glosses over both of those things, which is in keeping with the overall light tone, but might bother some readers.
Along the lines of deeper themes, if you’re looking for a book that shows characters struggling with homophobia, this is not going to be that book. There is no prejudice against same sex relationships in this world. I personally found that a nice break from, you know, our world. However, we have an odd cultural idea that queer narratives have to contain suffering or they aren’t “realistic.” Magic? Sure. Unicorns? No problem. Two women happily dating each other? No way dude, that’s too far. If there’s no prejudice then like … what did they have to overcome in order to be together?
Why you would read a fantasy romance novel for realism is a whole other question, but that aside, the reality of being queer is not all suffering all the time. In my experience, it’s mostly bad puns and trying to decide if that fourth pair of Doc Martens is a need or just a want. (NB: I don’t speak for the community as a whole. Some people prefer Tims, and that’s perfectly valid.) Prejudice is a real thing, but not the only real thing. We fall in love in the same silly, messy, joyous way as everybody else, and reading a story that reflects that is a genuine treat.
The last thing to note is that the book doesn’t stand alone: it’s part of a series with three books out so far. The second, Daughter of the Sun, is another f/f romance set in the same world, but with different characters. The third, The Queen of Rhodia, picks back up with Esofi and Adale and ties the two stories together. I haven’t read it yet, but I hear that there will be a) more about Esofi’s past and b) more dragons.
If you’re looking for a lot of angst or a Game of Thrones-style deep dive into high fantasy politics, this isn’t the book for you. But if you’re looking for a light, happy book about women falling in love and fighting dragons? It might just be your jam.