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The Queen's Poisoner (Kingfountain, 1) Hardcover – April 1, 2016
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The first book in the million-copy, Wall Street Journal bestselling Kingfountain series from Jeff Wheeler.
King Severn Argentine’s fearsome reputation precedes him: usurper of the throne, killer of rightful heirs, ruthless punisher of traitors. Attempting to depose him, the Duke of Kiskaddon gambles…and loses. Now the duke must atone by handing over his young son, Owen, as the king’s hostage. And should his loyalty falter again, the boy will pay with his life.
Seeking allies and eluding Severn’s spies, Owen learns to survive in the court of Kingfountain. But when new evidence of his father’s betrayal threatens to seal his fate, Owen must win the vengeful king’s favor by proving his worth―through extraordinary means. And only one person can aid his desperate cause: a mysterious woman, dwelling in secrecy, who truly wields power over life, death, and destiny.
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From Publishers Weekly
Richard III is near-obligatory context for reading about King Severn Argentine; readers less fond of the Bard can refer to Kylo Ren instead. Argentine is the black-garbed, duplicitous, enraged, self-absorbed usurper of the throne of Ceredigion in Wheeler’s well-wrought fantasy setting. He has taken hostage eight-year-old Owen, youngest child of the Duke of Kiskaddon, as surety for the duke’s good conduct. None doubt that the boy is marked for death, but Owen has well-wishers in the labyrinthine palace of Kingfountain, as well as preternatural gifts of focus and analysis. His allies include Ankarette Tryneowy, the titular poisoner in the service of the dowager queen. Wheeler (the Covenant of Muirwood series) develops Owen slowly, taking a long, deep look into a young character and his circumscribed world—an unusual move for a first book in a series. Though Wheeler works very much according to the typical blueprint for high fantasy, the emotional range and insight he convincingly portrays in his child hero make for a political drama that can entice adult and teen audiences alike.
This is the first title in Wheeler’s projected Kingfountain series, about Owen Kiskaddon, initially the eight-year-old son of a traitorous duke being held hostage at the royal court of Ceredigion. Wheeler’s Ceredigion is a close analogue of War of the Roses-era England, with the central differences being that this universe’s Richard III, Severn Argentine, did not fail at his own version of Bosworth and that a mystical fountain is the central religious fixture as well as the source of magical powers for people known as the Fountainblessed. Owen tries to learn the truth about Severn as well as survive at court, relying heavily on the help of a mysterious Fountainblessed woman, the poisoner of the title. While the similar historical sources may make some readers think of Kingfountain as a kinder and gentler Game of Thrones, the novel handles moral ambiguity fairly well and creates a fairly nuanced and sympathetic character in its Richard III analogue. Overall, an enjoyable—if conventional—entry in its genre.
- Publisher : 47North (April 1, 2016)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 334 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1503953319
- ISBN-13 : 978-1503953314
- Lexile measure : HL710L
- Item Weight : 15.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 1 x 8.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,953,504 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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I liked what I saw enough to go back and buy it for my Kindle.
Some of the negatives complained that the sentence structure was too simple. I have no idea what they meant. I found the writing clear and well-flowing.
It was a quick read; I think I was through it in a day, or perhaps two. But I found the story entertaining, and there are still some unresolved questions at the end of the book, so I am ready to get the next one, and reviews be hanged!
I am a fan of G. R. R. Martin. I generally like science fiction, but I like a well-written fantasy or medieval now and again. This one is loosely based on the War of the Roses, but in a fantasy land with a bit of water-magic.
I'd say give this a shot. It isn't the best thing I've ever read, but then, not much can be, can it? It's a solid little medieval fantasy, and I look forward to seeing where the story goes next.
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.
It reads nicely and weaves complexities together with good consistency. Reading is a pleasure and rarely do I feel like I missed something (usually if it happens it's because I don't want to put the book down but am drifting away).
The editing is fantastic. I rarely get to say that, being alert to grammar and spelling issues. Having worked as an editor and writer, poor sentence and paragraph structure and techniques tend to jump out at me as well. I have been hard pressed to find typos in this series (I'm on #4 now).
Granddaughter test - YES. This is very important to me. When reading a book I ask myself if I'd be comfortable handing it over to my precious granddaughter to read. In today's world such innocence has been lost. And, while I expect she'll be exposed to obscenities, perversions and colorful language in her lifetime, I am not willing to be the source.
The author provides some dilemmas that the characters have to work through that make you think, as well. Who should you trust? Why? Is there hope?
And there is wisdom woven through the series - nuggets to hold on to.
Of course, there's treachery as well. Sometimes our greatest wounds are from those we should be able to trust most.
It has a King Arthur feel to it, which is very obvious. It makes the reader start guessing how much certain characters will line up with the Arthur stories. Will Merlin return? Is Mordred going to end the kingdom? Will Guinevere betray Arthur? The names are different, but you see the parallels as the story develops. And you find yourself hoping that it'll be different in some ways.
This doesn't make it predictable, at least not in the sense that you'll know what's going to happen. So far, it's added suspense because I don't know, but I wonder. So I want to jump ahead to find out.
Thanks for a good story, Jeff. I look forward to finding out, while dreading coming to the end at the same time. Of course, that's a sign of any good book.
Top reviews from other countries
I have yet to decide if I will read the next in the series, as it lacks the descriptive and atmospheric writing that I prefer, but there is enough originality and interest in the characters to probably pull me back in, and they are very well realised. Though I may have been somewhat critical, this book did keep me engrossed enough to read it each day. I also want to see what this author can do with an adult protagonist - he admits that writing from a child's perspective was a bit of a gamble and I'm therefore surprised that he gambles further by recommending that people new to his writings should start with this book. Also, be careful on his website, as I came across one massive spoiler for the next book. I thought it was a nice touch to flesh the world out a little more online and there are some helpful resources for budding writers, but authors who talk a lot about themselves and their writing process tend to reduce the suspension of disbelief for the stories they are writing and the worlds they are creating.
Several times I had to re-read sections that were a little convoluted but the descriptive writing is good. I could picture the scenes which is really important in fantasy. I enjoyed the characterisation, Owen is quite engaging and the king's real persona compared to his perceived character.
I'll probably read the next books in the trilogy as the writing is good, it's just a hair's breadth away from being really imaginative and capturing.
This is the story of Owen, an eight-year-old duke’s son who is sent to live in Kingfountain as a ward to the king. But the king has a mighty reputation, and a sour dislike of Owen’s father on account of his father’s traitorous actions. Owen’s brother was killed in the king’s care, being thrown over the falls as is the way, so what chance does little Owen have? Well, fortunately Owen has friends in Kingfountain, and a power he is only just recognising. He will look to do more than just survive – he will look to thrive.
One of the very best things about this book is the age of the protagonist(s). Often young adult books focus on people who are coming of age, but Owen is not there yet. He is eight. But even though we see everything through his eyes, it is a really comfortable read. We are constantly aware of the youthful perspective, but never unsettled by it. And rightly, Owen’s best friend is of a similar age, with all the qualities of an eight-year-old. Refreshing.
This is also a really well thought out story, feeling rich and well balanced with the world in which it’s set. The execution of the plot is subtle, but it is no less for this fact – and in fact is probably more. Our perceptions are shifted through the novel, with enough action scattered throughout to keep the reading engaged. We are rooting for little Owen, and we want him to succeed. He deserves it, bless him.
There are also some really fabulous secondary characters here, too. Owen’s best friend, Elysa, is delightfully annoying (she speaks a lot), but we come to love her as Owen does. The King is odd, Master Berwick is a great parody, and Mancini is a hilarious fat man. But the greatest word has to be reserved for Ankarette, who is a really great character. Entirely unexpected, but she fits the role like a glove. Nice.
The other thing that I thought was really clever was Mancini’s ‘log’ – effectively a personal log of the wider goings on between chapters. This enabled the author to relay information to the reader without breaking the prose perspective – very clever. I haven’t seen that many (any?) places before, and it really works well.
This book has been written in a classic fantasy style, which is nice to see (no first person here). However, the slight downside of this is that it is a little more distancing as a read, and just takes a little longer to ease into. Not really a major problem, but worth a note.
And following on from that, it is something of a slow start to this book. With the slight distancing of the writing, and a singular perspective switch in the first chapter, this really needs a big punch to get it going. It doesn’t take too long to get going, but it’s not quite the first chapter, so make sure to read on. It really is worth it.
So, all in all, this is a really fabulous book – well conceived and executed with a nice plot and great characters. It also has a satisfying ending, though I’m not sure where it goes from here (tied up a bit too well?) That being said, I will still be reading on because it’s such a great read.