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Monday, May 5, 2008

"The Queen's Bastard" by C.E. Murphy

Official C.E. Murphy Website
Order “The Queen’s Bastard
Read An Excerpt HERE

First published in 2005, Alaskan-born author C.E. Murphy has already completed an action-romance trilogy (The Strongbox Chronicles) written under the pen name Cate Dermody, is three volumes—and a novella—into her Walker Papers urban fantasy series, and just recently released the second book in The Negotiator urban fantasy trilogy. Now in “The Queen’s Bastard”, part one of The Inheritor’s Cycle, C.E. Murphy takes readers back to 16th century Europe and an age of Renaissance, Reformation, and influential queens…

Widowed twice before the age of seventeen, Sandalia de Philip de Costa and her son Javier are heirs to three thrones—Lanyarch, Gallin, and Essandia—and fervent followers of the Ecumenic Church. To the north lies hated Aulun which exists under Reformation law and is ruled by Lorraine Walter, the Red Bitch. Sandalia, in conspiracy with her brother Rodrigo, prince of Essandia, seek to overthrow Lorraine and place Aulun back under Ecumenical rule. Protecting the queen against such plots is her spymaster Robert Drake, who possesses a secret weapon—their daughter Belinda Primrose:

Raised studying the blade, politics, math, languages, history and other subjects that girls are not normally taught, Belinda discovers her true purpose as an assassin at the age of twelve, and for ten years she serves Aulun magnificently. Then, in the year 1587 as plans are set in motion, Belinda is sent on her most dangerous mission yet—to Lutetia, the capital of Gallin. There she becomes Lady Beatrice Irvine, a widower without children from Lanyarch. Her goal: to insinuate herself into the graces of Prince Javier and uncover evidence of Sandalia conspiring against Aulun

Like the time period that the book is set in, “The Queen’s Bastard” is rich, elegant and pleasing, and should appeal to fans of both historical fiction and the author
Jacqueline Carey. Of the former, “The Queen’s Bastard” obviously draws from 16th century European history even though the names of peoples, places, and events have been changed—Aulun instead of England, Lorraine instead of Elizabeth, etc—and one of the book’s many pleasures is determining what is fact, and what is fiction. Additionally, Ms. Murphy does a wonderful job of rendering the Elizabethan era, authentically capturing the speech, mannerisms, and beliefs of the period’s different cultures and social classes.

Of the former, “The Queen’s Bastard” will no doubt draw many comparisons to
Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series and not without reason. Like the Kushiel books, the prose is poetic and extravagant; the plot is rich with intrigue and passion; magic is kept to a minimum; characters are well-drawn & developed, led by strong female protagonists; and atmospherically, the novel just oozes with sensuality. Even the heroine is reminiscent of Phèdre nó Delaunay since Belinda uses her intelligence and other assets to achieve her goals. But for all of the similarities between “The Queen’s Bastard” and Jacqueline’s Kushiel novels, C.E. Murphy’s book definitely succeeds on its own merits.

Taking a closer look at the characters, “The Queen’s Bastard” is narrated in the third-person and rotates between Belinda—the leading role—and various supporting roles including Robert Drake, Sandalia, Prince Javier, the courtesan Ana di Meo, and Akilina Pankejeff, an ambassador of Khazar. Of everyone, Belinda is easily the most interesting character in the book and it’s not just because she’s the main protagonist. Belinda possesses many layers—the secrecy surrounding her birth parents, the loyalty she has towards Robert and her queen, her loneliness, the different personas she adopts, her suppressed ‘witchbreed’ abilities—and it is this complexity that is so fascinating. Especially when the story shifts to Gallin and these different layers come into play like adopting the persona of a noblewoman when Belinda normally plays the role of a servant or other lower-class citizen, and the dangers such a guise present. Or her loyalty being threatened by the friendships and relationships she develops as Beatrice Irvine. Or discovering that she’s not the only one with these strange witchbreed powers and learning how to control them, including reading other peoples’ thoughts & desires and cloaking herself in shadow. These are all compelling issues and a major reason why “The Queen’s Bastard” is so successful.

Another is the story. Ambitious and skillfully executed, “The Queen’s Bastard” is like a world champion chess match. The pacing is methodical, but engaging; the strategies and machinations are complex; the betrayals and revelations—think countermoves—are shocking; and the endgame is intensely exciting. In short, Ms. Murphy really knows how to tell a story and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Belinda and company in “The Pretender’s Crown”.

In closing, I really enjoyed “The Queen’s Bastard”. I thought it was well-written, the characters were engrossing, the story even more so, and as a huge fan of
Jacqueline Carey, this was just my kind of book :) So it was a win-win situation. For not only was “The Queen’s Bastard” a memorable read—and one that I would strongly recommend—but the book has also convinced me to give C.E. Murphy’s other novels a shot…


Kimberly Swan said...

This sounds very well done. I've read all of the previous books, but this seemed so different that I haven't picked it up yet. Great review! :)

Robert said...

Thanks! I'd definitely recommed reading the book :)

Brie said...

I'm reading this one now and really enjoying it.

Robert said...

Brie, feel free to let us know what you think of when you're done :)

Anonymous said...

This was definitely one of the more weirder books I have read, and that's after reading Kushiel's Dart, Chosen et al.

She wrote it well and even now I'm unsure where this is all leading us. It's leaves the readers perplexed as to her motives for her characters and it draws us in which can only be commendable.

The protagonist is unlike the hero of a fantasy novel and it's kept me railed in. I can't wait for more in this series, if only to assuage my curiosity of the story that this author is weaving.

I'm not too sure how many stars I'd give, but an A for giving us something different and intriguing, that's for sure.

Harry Markov said...

Oh, I read reviews on this, but when you do it magic happens and I drool. I got quite an interesting graps over all of the aspects of the book and I have to say thta this is a keeper. Hopefully I get to read it.

Robert said...

The F, thanks for your comments :) I don't know exactly what the author's motives are for her characters and the story, but for me it's just a good old-fashioned tale of political intrigue, centered around the drama of a woman torn between loyalty and love...

Harry, thanks as always for the kind words :)


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