Top positive review
Charlotte's Web Meets Game of Thrones
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on December 16, 2018
Despite Jeff Wheeler’s Muirwood and Kingsfountain books dominating the top of Amazon’s fantasy lists for the last couple of years, it was a total accident that I bought The Queen’s Poisoner. Its cover looked so much the Books of the Caledan Trilogy by Meg Cowley (or I should probably say, hers looked like his — but check it out), I accidentally one-clicked it. With the deed already done, I went back and bought the audiobook, since most Amazon imprints are $1.99 when bought together.
It wasn’t until many months later that I decided to pluck it off the slopes of Mount TBR. As with many books I read, I’d started and stopped several times before really getting into the story. It begins in the viewpoint of Lady Eleanor Kiskaddon, as she worries about her husband and dotes on her youngest son and main character, Owen. Now eight, he was stillborn, but miraculously survived. Despite his precocious intelligence, he is frail.
When her husband, Lord Kiskaddon delays taking the field in a battle, which determined if the brutal Severn remains king of Ceredigion, the court demands a hostage. Despite having three surviving siblings, Owen is chosen to go to the capital of Kingfountain.
His future looks bleak. Like in Game of Thrones, the palace is full of sycophants, backstabbers, and spies. Like Charlotte’s Web, Owen finds support in the form of a metaphorical spider: a spy presumed to be dead, but who still lurks in the palace. Ankarette is the titular Queen’s Poisoner, and just as Charlotte tricks Wilbur’s owners by inflating his perceived value (hey, a tie to Orconomics!), Ankarette hopes to inflate Owen’s worth in the king’s eyes by making him seem Fountain-blessed.
That means Owen would be among the very few who can use magic. As a system, it’s only briefly explained in book one, as the ability to channel magic based on the proximity of running water. It manifests differently in individuals, from the ability to influence others’ decisions, to being able to see the future; and the realm’s obsession with water, embedded in the language and down to the way criminals and traitors are executed (they’re sent down a waterfall).
The aspect of worldbuilding that grabbed my interest was the politicking. If Game of Thrones is based on the War of Roses, The Queen’s Poisoner has the feel of the Hundred Year’s War. Like medieval England and France, the kingdoms of Ceredigion and Occitania have been engaged in a push and pull for land for years. Even a heroic figure in living memory harkens back to Joan of Arc.
What really brought The Queen’s Poisoner to life for me was the characterization of secondary characters. In many ways, I found them more compelling than Owen. Elizabeth Virginia Mortimer (don’t call her Lady Mortimer!) pops off the pages with her ebullient personality. King Severn proves to be much more than a one-sided tyrant, and the various spies have distinctive and memorable personalities.
If it were just the story, intrigue, and worldbuilding, I would rate The Queen’s Poisoner 8.22 out of 10 stars. But since the secondary characters feel so real to me, I will raise it to a 9.012, or the rank of Charlotte’s Web on Amazon at the time of this review’s writing.