The True Queen doesn’t ask you to stay long, but will pull you in


Zen Cho’s follow-up novel to Sorcerer to the Crown, The True Queen introduces new characters in a story that is more engaging.

If you read Zen Cho’s debut novel, Sorcerer to the Crown, but thought there really wasn’t enough of the world of Fairy, The True Queen basically fixes that problem. The title alone indicates it, and with the borders of Fairy a little more open to magical Britain, there’s a lot of crossover.

Picking up two years after Zacharias Wythe and Prunella Gentleman turned Britain upside down, Mak Genggang sends two girls, Muna and Sakti, to Britain because they happen to be cursed — or so she thinks. If you’re looking for a lot of Prunella and Zacharias, you’ll probably be disappointed. Muna is the primary narrator here, and she’s more in the mold of Zacharias than Prunella, but with her own obligations to her sister, Sakti.

That’s because Sakti spends most of the novel in the Unseen Realms of the fairies, while Muna is stuck in England. Sorcerer is more about English politics; by design, True Queen is more about fairy politics, and with most of the powerful mortals basically removed from the plot.

Granted, all of those removals make sense within the context of the universe, but it’s an example of the construction that goes into this book. On one hand, magic — especially English magic — is carefully put together, with Cho using “formula” for what would probably be called incantations in other novels. On the other, it might take a reader time to adjust to the fact that Cho is referring to older fantasy books and, of course, Regency-era novels, down to the vocabulary she uses. It’s very well put-together, but still a little different.

That same construction is visible even in the plot. A particularly perceptive reader will probably see almost every plot point coming — down to the ending — and the other ones can pretty easily be justified. If a reader values surprise, they’ll likely be disappointed. But at the same time, if you go in expecting a similar plot line to Sorcerer, there’s a comfort in recognizing that. In other words, the two novels are remarkably internally consistent with each other, even as Cho introduces new aspects. That’s a particular strength.

However, because Cho references earlier works, the characters all sound quite similar when they speak — a few exceptions, of course, exist, but most of them don’t really show up that often. Muna and Sakti are distinctive, but Henrietta and Muna, who spend most of the novel bouncing off each other, really don’t seem to.

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All the same, the book is, well, magical and paced fairly well. It’s definitely fun, in its own way. Should you pick it and its predecessor up, expect a pair of novels that are expertly constructed — and conscious of modern issues about representation both in terms of having characters of color as well as LGBTQ characters, which is a mark in its favor — and may very well linger in your mind even if you don’t spend a lot of time reading them.