The Queen’s Poisoner is the story of a young boy who is taken away from his family to serve as a hostage in the capital city, after his brother, the former hostage, was killed by the king in retaliation for his father’s treachery on the battlefield. In the capital he is taken under the wing of a number of female figures, who introduce him into the mysteries and intrigue of court life.
Prior to reading the author’s note at the end of the book, I was convinced this was a paint-by-numbers George RR Martin ripoff, but apparently the author has had the idea for this series floating around in his head for decades. Okay, sure, but that doesn’t make the comparisons with the much more well-known – to me at least – series by GRRM, any less valid. Frankly, I’m getting just a bit tired of High Fantasy just transposing periods of English history, changing a few names here and there, and calling it something else.
My problems with fantasy in general aside, Wheeler has created an interesting enough fantasy to build around the borrowed-from-history elements. I found the use – and abuse – of magic in the book interesting, although it seemed a bit sketchy at times. I also found the – eponymous Queen’s Poisoner – an interesting character, although the explanations for her actions, and how she seems to get away with hiding in plain sight for decades rather illogical.
There is also the stereotypical rebellious princess/love interest who flits in and out of the main character’s life with gay abandon, and seems pretty useless, as stereotypical princesses/love interests can be. There was also a female character who seems quite important at the start of the novel, and then is replaced by aforementioned stereotypical princess/love interest before reappearing inexplicably at the end.
There were enough mysterious-intriguing-shady characters – many of whom could have walked onto a Game of Thrones set with barely a change in costume – who were probably the most interesting parts of the book. And that’s one of my chief dislikes about the whole ’12-year-old-chosen-one-saves-the-world-from-something’ trope which occurs frequently in the fantasy genre. (Thanks for nothing, Joseph Conrad) The main character is not particularly interesting… yet. He is only 8 at the start of the book, and stands as a puppet in this novel, with very little agency of his own.
There might be something big lurking around the corner in this series, but I just feel like it’s all been done before, and in more interesting ways. Hobb, Martin, and Feist have set a very high standard for the rest of the genre to live up to.