Seventeen-year-old Keralie Corrington may seem harmless, but she’s, in fact, one of Quadara’s most skilled thieves and a liar. Varin, on the other hand, is an honest, upstanding citizen of Quadara’s most enlightened region, Eonia. He runs afoul of Keralie when she steals a package from him, putting his life in danger. When Varin attempts to retrieve the package, he and Keralie both find themselves entangled in a conspiracy that leaves all four of Quadara’s queens dead.
With no other choices and on the run from Keralie’s former employer, the two decide to join forces, endeavoring to discover who has killed the queens and save their own lives in the process. When their reluctant partnership blooms into a tenuous romance, they must overcome their own dark secrets in hopes of a future together that seemed impossible just days before. But first they have to stay alive and untangle the secrets behind the nation’s four dead queens.
TW: loss of a loved one, death (including murder), violence, body horror, graphic injury, gore, eugenics
If you’ve been paying attention to the hype surrounding this book, you’ve probably heard that the twists at its core are WILD, and that they’re not at all what anyone saw coming.
I’m here to tell you that this is definitely true.
If Four Dead Queens has done anything well, it’s set up a series of harrowing questions, matters of life and death nine times out of ten. It’s a ticking time bomb in some ways, with the worry of being too late always hovering over it, and it’s loaded with twists that belong in a murder mystery, so many that I didn’t even get to the heart of the whodunnit, and I’m usually not too bad at teasing out the truth before the big reveal.
Really, the most satisfying thing is these twists, is the plot. It’s staggered in such a way that there’s never one big reveal, drawing all the tension to one point and then WHOOPS THAT’S ALL, FOLKS. Instead, it asks new questions as old ones are resolved, and that keeps the plot rolling in an incredibly satisfying way.
On top of that, I loved that our main character is a thief, because I’m unreasonably attached to thieves as characters. It’s not something I’ve yet found the root of. All I know is that if they steal things and they’re loaded with sass at all times, I’ve probably adopted them. Keralie, of course, fits the bill.
But I did want to mention some things I had problems with. Big problems with, and I’m surprised I haven’t seen any discussion of it until now. So many of the reviews I’ve already seen of this book are gushing and overflowing with praise. I can’t think of any (though I certainly hope there are some) that have mentioned that this book unapologetically buries its gays, and that it has a heavy current of eugenics that is encouraged and painted like a positive thing. It’s really unfortunate, too, because without these two things, I would have liked the book a lot more. But it’s hard to get past the fact that the only named queer couple dies, the other queer couple is a background couple and only one of them has a name, and the third maybe arguable example of queerness (who calls another male character cute) is a villain. Cap that off with Eonia, that frigid land where everyone is logical so obviously no one feels REAL romantic love and sex is just for procreation, and that really stung my aroace heart. Can’t keep the queer characters alive, and then we’re gonna insist cold logic and no apparent interest in love or sex go hand in hand, like people are robots for not feeling romantic or sexual attraction. Cool. Great. Doesn’t suck at all (it does actually, thanks for asking).
Drop that with the eugenics stuff on top? Now your folks heavily coded as aroace are coded as somehow nonhuman, AND you’ve drifted into the fun (read: super shitty, why the hell would you do that) territory of suggesting that folks with disabilities aren’t good enough and don’t deserve to live the same lives as able-bodied or neurotypical counterparts. It’s flat-out stated that characters from Eonia are given a determined day when they’ll be killed, apparently in the interest of population control, and for anyone with genetic conditions, disabilities, and the like, that death date gets moved up way sooner.
Yeah. And the ending surrounding one character goes “oh no, don’t worry, we’ll cure you” which is just…I honestly can’t believe that got through to publication unchallenged? Eugenics got through unchallenged. That is, pardon my French, super fucked up, and I’d really love to see some ownvoices reviews from disabled and/or neurodivergent folks on the subject, since (like I said), so much of what I’ve seen has just been glowing praise without comment on how unsettling and downright awful this current of the book is.
I wish this had been an ARC, because then there might have been a chance this book would be changed before hitting shelves. But it’s out there in the world, and it’s…really something. Plot-wise, it’s not bad. It was enjoyable and twisty and murdery, which is what I want in a mystery! But I cannot get past the flippant bury your gays and eugenics. I just can’t, and I almost wished I’d DNFed, mystery solution be damned, because I was hoping it would get better, and that someone would say something about how messed up it all was. But no such luck.
And that’s how you end up with three stars on something that could have been much higher. Honestly, I’m wondering if I can even justify three stars despite the things I did like about the book. This isn’t entirely a purchase I’m pleased with.
So, have you read Four Dead Queens? What did you think? And whether or not you’ve read it, do you have any recommendations for books that feature quality queer, disabled, and/or neurodivergent representation? Or ownvoices bloggers for those identities? Because I’m thinking now is an especially excellent time to boost those voices.