Seventeen year-old Princess Esofi of Rhodia— a cold and barren mountainous state— has been sent off to the kingdom of the Ieflaria to wed her betrothed and provide military assistance against the fertile kingdom’s dragon problem. Even before she arrives, she is greeted with the news of his death. But not wanting to cancel, and go back, Esofi makes a bargain; her troops for the marriage of the next in line. Much to her chagrin, though, her new betrothed, Adale, does not want to be a Queen and the responsibility that comes with it. With the dragons becoming increasingly violent, Esofi must make hard choices to save the people of Ieflaria and fulfill her duty.Amazon Link
And now I get to review it.
Queen of Ieflaria is the first book in the Tales of Inthya series and what a starter it is. Almost right out of the gate, Calvin sets the expectation for what you’re going to get: not even five pages in and Esofi is to be wed to the next in line— Crown Princess Adale. There are no pretensions; you are getting a WLW story whether you like it or not. Calvin lets you know that up front before anything else. Big claps off to Calvin.
Another thing that deserves big claps, that although the betrothal to Adale is a surprise, it’s not too much of one. For Esofi it’s not unheard of for Princesses to marry each other; because the problem of heirs has been solved by a neat magical trick, thus any problems anyone ever had with it is explained. Calvin drops in-character worldbuilding at regular intervals, but not so much that you get overwhelmed and distracted with the amount of information being presented, but also just enough to add depth and context to this world to make light bulbs switch on in your head. The world Calvin created— Inthya— is full of nice little details like these that just make sense. The pantheon of the Gods and their various domains, the little histories between the families involved, the cultural differences between the Rhodians and the Ieflarians, a very quick explanation of how feudalism works (I had to read it a few times just to be sure I wasn’t mistaken), and so many more instances than I wrote down in my notes. All these details flesh out a world that gives the characters in them actual meaning to their motivations.
The characters too, are chef kiss. Esofi, for instance, is well out of her depth: out of a home she can’t return to; a family that doesn’t love her; and thrown into a marriage that the recipient seemingly doesn’t want. Esofi has to take each of these slights on the chin and put on a brave face and keep on going, even if that’s absolutely what she doesn’t want and in private with her confidantes she’s reeling. From the outset, Esofi makes it very clear Ieflaria is going to be her new home and family, regardless of how it happens, and it’s not something that’s for show either. Almost every action Esofi does speaks to this conviction. But underneath that conviction is so much pain and doubt, and it hurt my heart to read Esofi talking about it.
On the other hand, Adale, her betrothed, is an absolute disaster. She is rough around the edges, drinks too much, hunts, sleeps through religious services, and does everything and anything un-princess-like as you can imagine. She is the antithesis to Esofi, but god, does she wear her heart on her sleeve and shows it in the most endearing ways sometimes. In one instance I found myself in actual tears pointing at the page thinking no no no you absolute dumbass I love this gesture but this is so childish oh my god.
To push these two unexpected lovebirds together, and to force them to grow up quickly to realise these feelings for each other, is a seemingly machine-gun page of plot events that Calvin puts them through. Because of Adale’s thoughtlessness at the very beginning of the book, an entire betrothal-drama spanning the entire novella takes place, involving the connivingly smooth twins and cousin’s of Adale, Brandt and Svana. Their involvement, along with the impending dragon threat, forces Adale to do some very fast growing-up, and I really enjoyed the inter-house drama and rivalry between them, before being neatly tied and everyone living happily ever after (for now, at least). There are a plenty of absolutely heart-rending tender moments between Adale and Esofi that made my heart melt, and the encouragement that they both end up giving to each other tenderised it some more.
My only complaint is that as the book moves forward I started to find myself getting tired at the rapid pace of things being introduced. It would have been nice if there was a focus just on the two main dramas— the dragons and the wedding— rather than introducing all the other threads in the book that don’t appear to be going anywhere at the moment.
Overall, this book is a treat to read. The characters are solid, there are some and I found myself hooked enough to read the entire thing in one sitting. I’m rearing to get going on the next book and see where we’re heading off to next.