Book Review: The Queen of Ieflaria, by Effie Calvin
by Brittany B. | 09/17/2020
The Queen of Ieflaria, by Effie Calvin, first in the Tales of Inthya series, is a quick and satisfying fantasy read. There is magic, LGBTQ+ inclusive world building, dragons, and court intrigue. And if that isn’t enough to pull you in, the amazing cast of female characters sure as hell will win your heart:
Princess Esofi of Rhodia and Crown Prince Albion of Ieflaria have been betrothed since they were children but have never met. At age seventeen, Esofi’s journey to Ieflaria is not for the wedding she always expected but instead to offer condolences on the death of her would-be husband.
But Ieflaria is desperately in need of help from Rhodia for their dragon problem, so Esofi is offered a new betrothal to Prince Albion’s younger sister, the new Crown Princess Adale. But Adale has no plans of taking the throne, leaving Esofi with more to battle than fire-breathing beasts.
The Queen of Ieflaria is a wonderful fantasy book for all the right reasons. I enjoyed it immensely and really enjoyed that Calvin subverted some expectations that I had when I first began reading. Esofi is at first characterized as a soft, well mannered princess who has been raised for most of her life knowing she would be the next Queen of Ieflaria because of an arranged marriage. She is book smart and devout to the pantheon of gods of the realm. What I wasn’t expecting was for her to be such a bad-ass, especially when she is juxtaposed against Adale, the Crown Princess that Esofi is to marry after the sudden death of Adale’s brother, Albion. Adale is a princess who enjoys hunting and drinking and playfully sparring with the people she chooses to be around while otherwise avoiding her courtly duties. Once Adale was introduced I fully expected her to have some sort of heroic moment in the narrative, but that moment never came and I absolutely love that narrative choice by Calvin. Without offering any spoilers, the reader gets to see Esofi fight three times within the book, each time more dangerous and exhilarating than the last.
The narrative also didn’t just Esofi showing that she was 100% capable, the reader got to see her fall apart, too. She wasn’t just some force to be reckoned with who was naturally good at everything. The reader sees her struggle with her emotions, nuanced depression from how her life was in Rhodia, issues with her magic not responding properly, and the sheer weight of responsibility of trying to become the next Queen to Ieflaria. The reader also gets to see some similar struggles with Adale, dealing with the sudden loss of her brother, new duties thrust upon her that she never thought she’d have to deal with because Albion had always done them, and coming to terms and accepting the fact that the needs of others drastically outweigh her own selfish desires.
Esofi and Adale are the two third-person perspectives of the book. While I personally related more to Adale I actually found myself enjoying the chapters that were from Esofi’s perspective more. Esofi’s perspective had much more of the world building woven into her narrative – a world that I found fascinating and expansively vast. It is clear that Calvin has a masterful grasp on the world she has created (The Queen of Ieflaria is the first of four books that are set in Calvin’s own world of Inthya) and used Esofi’s character as the perfect vessel to explain the intricacies of the world. The pantheon of gods is immeasurable and I really liked how, despite it being a ton of information, it never felt like an info dump while reading. When it was given during Esofi’s perspective, it felt natural that she would think of those things because she was so devout. Calvin then used Adale to show the reader the side of an Ieflarian who wasn’t religious and skeptical of whether the gods really existed and/or cared, making the world feel authentic and well rounded. For Esofi, the Gods are as real as trees and for Adale they are fairy tales that only pious fools believe in. And reading the scene where the intersectionality of faith and this bizarre word “science” is discussed between the two women was an absolute delight.
If the main protagonists weren’t enough to make me enjoy this book, several of the side characters definitely were. The reader sees much more of Esofi’s ladies in waiting than they do Adale’s (mainly because Adale’s ladies in waiting spent most of the book in some hung-over stupor when they weren’t actively partying or otherwise avoiding their duties) and the three women are so drastically different from one another. And, despite having a rather large cast of named characters, there weren’t ever any scenes where it felt like there were too many people on the page. Each character is used intentionally in specific scenes to help the focus along. Mireille helps the budding relationship between Adale and Esofi; Lexandrie challenges Esofi and keeps her focused; and Lisette, the roguish sleuth, works in the shadows collecting and relaying information.
Beyond the cast of intriguing characters, I really liked the magic in this book. It was clear that there are rules and limitations, but the reader is never bombarded with the specifics or the intricacies of how it works or manifests within a magic user. It was written so well and consistently that it was easy to believe all the things that magic was capable of doing as it unfolded on the page. At no point did I read a magical moment and go “that’s overpowered” or “that was a hand wave to solve this situation.” Calvin did a wonderful job of pacing out the general story to make sure that some divine intervention wasn’t required to solve a problem, but that our protagonists were able to do it themselves in a believable way. That was really satisfying to read because oftentimes short fantasy books can’t pull that off organically. Usually the ending to climatic battles are rushed or “hand-waved” with an over easy solution. Not in The Queen of Ieflaria. The resolution is clearly earned and fought for and it was beyond satisfying to read.
The other thing that I absolutely love about Calvin’s world building is that she included the neutroi – a term for gender neutral people. And the thing I love the most about her inclusion of the neutroi was that it wasn’t a one off character to pander to inclusivity. No. It was several side characters over all sorts of professions and disciplines. AND she wrote into the magic of the world something call “The Change” where someone could undergo magic to have the sex characteristics of the other gender. It’s referred to when the talk of heirs comes up, but there is an important part during Adale’s perspective where the narrative explains that if the soul is willing they will change permanently:
“A family,” repeated Adale. “Do you mean…?”(Pg 86-87)
“What?” Asked Esofi.
“Everyone is wondering about heirs,” Adale said. “I suppose…there is the Change.” The Change was a ritual performed by the priestesses of Dayluue. Most people tried it at least once in their life just for the novelty, though it wouldn’t last for very long unless the person being transformed had a soul that was willing to remain in its new body forever.
Adale knew her own soul was not willing, but a few hours would probably be enough time. Other women had managed it.
That made me so happy to see a trans-inclusive magic system and world setting, especially after establishing the neutroi early on in the book. They/them pronouns were easy for all of the characters to use and remember and it was never framed as “othering” or anything negative. It just goes to show that fantasy books can make their own rules and realities, free of the garbage that our real world throws at us. There were never any negatives associated with same sex couplings, aside from the potential difficulties in producing an heir. Ieflaria is a land that seemed free of homophobia and was incredibly inclusive and I wish more books could do what Calvin did so flawlessly in her world setting.
My only complaint about The Queen of Ieflaria is that it is 177 pages long and it could have easily been 300 or more. There were scenes that I wanted the narrative to slow down and spend more time in, whether for tension reasons or for lore reasons. Everything was very quick. The book spans about two weeks in narrative but it honestly felt much quicker than that, despite the section breaks that explained it was the next morning already. But in the grand scheme of things, there was so much else that I liked about this book and the world that Calvin has so masterfully created, that it isn’t too big of a complaint. Sure, I wanted it to slow down but the book was still very satisfying to read overall. And there might not have been palpable tension but there were explosive scenes of tension along with the undercurrent of the current “fire breathing beast” problem that plagues Ieflaria.
All in all, I can’t say enough good things about The Queen of Ieflaria. It was such a delightful read that it made me want to immediately jump into the other three books in Calvin’s Tales of Inthya series and gave a spark of life back into my love of fantasy books. This book is a wonderful example of writing the world you want to see as far as LGBTQ+ inclusivity and positivity goes. Inthya is a world that I’m all too happy to spend much more time in.
4.5 out of 5 Rainbows
Recommended Reader: Anyone who is looking for a romance light fantasy novel. Anyone who is looking for an LGBTQ+ inclusive fantasy setting and/or fantasy book. Anyone who enjoys fantasy, honestly.