The first part of a trilogy, Queen of Fire is a fantasy novel suited to a young adult or even juvenile audience. Not that the tale is simple and straightforward. There are actually dozens of people to sort out and an assortment of special, even magical, powers. I am reminded of my sons playing Dungeons and Dragons. They spent so much time designing their characters and their characters’ special gifts, but little on the game itself. Or perhaps that was the game, to imagine the possibilities. In this instance, special gifts may return in later novels.
The main action of this novel begins with fifteen-year-old Rowan, who lives with her mother, a healer and herbalist, in an isolated cabin on the edge of a forest. Rowan is a typical teenager, longing to test boundaries and resenting the one she loves the most, as her mother represents rules and limitations. All too soon, the girl really is on her own and must discover wits, powers and endurance and find guidance among strangers. She also discovers something her mother never told her, that she has a father and a brother. When she sets out to find them, it will mean crossing from one end to the other of the known world, with only a silver bracelet and a few other talismans to protect her.
Meanwhile, many miles away, thirteen-year-old Samel has a parallel experience, learning that he has a sister and that his parents, though they loved each other, mysteriously chose to separate their children when they were very young. He too has been sheltered from magical powers and the bracelet he finds by accident matches Rowan’s bracelet.
Samel and his father, however, are not alone. They have each other, friends and a happy existence in a prosperous kingdom in the south. Samel’s father is a respected musician with easy access to the palace, and Samel shows signs of following in his footsteps, at least until he discovers all the things his father hasn’t told him. Eventually Samel and his father plan to journey north in search of Rowan, until an otherworldly occurrence prevents them.
Except for the prologue, the novel is alternately Rowan’s story then Samel’s story. Since the voice of the prologue reappears only at the end of the book and illuminates very little, I am uncertain about the part it plays. Writing a trilogy must be challenging, as the writer must compel readers to continue through two more books. Haensel does this through unanswered questions, a prologue that retains its mystery, and even through the title itself.
There are references to a legendary Queen of Fire throughout, but her identity isn’t revealed, though one is tempted to guess. The motif of estranged mothers and daughters also begs for more attention, and I’m uncertain what the author is trying to say about family ties, ultimately the most compelling and lasting but also the most fragile and even dangerous of relationships.
There is obviously more to come, but Queen of Fire puts everything in motion.
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