The Queen of Swords by R.S. Belcher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I had a rough time rating this book. Parts of it I liked, and parts of it I didn't care for. That may be because it's the third book in the series and I haven't read the other two. Copious references are made to previous events, but the author does a nice job of summing them up, so I don't think that's the problem. This book has two main characters and two timelines, and it seems to me what I'm having trouble with is the fact that one character and timeline resonated for me, and the other simply did not.
Well, let's start with the character/timeline that absolutely worked: Anne Bonney. I would LOVE more books about her. She was a real person, a female pirate in the 18th century, and as far as I can tell, the author pretty much stuck to the facts of her early life. The branch point into the author's alternate history and universe begins in 1721, when Anne goes on a quest for her last great treasure, and falls into a world of gods, magic and vaguely Lovecraftian monsters. This quest takes her into the heart of Africa, where she meets a priestess of an ancient society of women called the Daughters of Lilith, who are fighting another ancient society of monsters called the Sons of Typhon. This priestess, Raashida, convinces Anne she is destined to take on what is called Lilith's Load, and protect the world from the Sons of Typhon. Anne does this, and her bloodline now belongs to the Daughters.
(A lot of Anne's story takes place in Africa. Since the author is a while male, this is a rather sensitive and potentially problematic storyline. He seems to have done his research and handles the various tribal cultures and customs with respect, and also tackles the racism and colonialism of the era. But I don't know enough about the real history to comment.)
Cue a hundred and fifty years later, with Anne's multiple-greats granddaughter, Maude Stapleton. In one of the previous books, Maude released Typhon from his prison, and this comes back to bite her, big-time. As far as I was concerned, Maude's storyline bogged the book down, because it felt like the author was losing control of his world. As just one example, Anne Bonney is still around when Maude is a child, specifically nine years old and several years after that, since Anne is mentioned as having given Maude her initial training. Which would have made Anne Bonney about 140-150 years old? Of course this is a fantasy, and there's several hints given as to how this might have happened (ingesting the Blood of Lilith), but all the people who have no idea this underworld of gods and monsters exists go around ignoring the fact that they're talking about Maude's great-great-great-great-grandmother? Who was still alive till 20-odd years ago? Come on, people.
Also, Maude is damn near as invulnerable as Superman (at least until she meets the Sons of Typhon), and there's no kryptonite to be found. Now, I like a badass female fighter as much as anyone, but the Daughters of Lilith take this rather over the top (their fighting techniques supposedly inspired all the martial arts in existence). There's also a convenient metaphysical place known as the Record which Maude discovers she can tap into (fifty years earlier than any other Daughter being able to do it), where she can converse with the spirits of the previous Daughters (and her own mother, apparently), and solve all her problems. I could go on, but you get the idea--it felt to me like the worldbuilding was coming apart, and my suspension of belief stretched to the breaking point.
Which is sad, because Anne Bonney was wonderful. I would love reading the story of how she rescued the tree people and acquired her sentient warship, the Hecate. She was a realistic, flawed, human character. Unfortunately, at the end of the book we're left with Maude Stapleton teaching and nurturing the next generation of the Daughters of Lilith, and after her disappointing story in this book, I'm not inclined to go any further.
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