- Author: Alec Hutson
- Publisher: Self-published
- Published Date: 2016
This is another SPFBO 2017 finalist book. It is The Fantasy Book Critic’s choice.
The Crimson Queen is a self-published novel by Alec Hutson. My overall impression of it is that it is a good book. There are certain aspects that don’t make it a favorite of mine, but I would still give it a shot since so many people seem to love it.
Let’s start out with a bang! The plot is where this book really shines. We follow a variety of seemingly disjointed POVs that are all connected by the eponymous Queen. Magic is forbidden in the vast majority of this world. Anyone suspected of magical abilities is taken away and given a test. If they pass, they become a Pure; if they fail, they die — plain and simple.
We meet a teen named Keilan who has a knack for knowing exactly where the fish are. A storyteller comes over, telling the town of the evils of magic. And wouldn’t you know it, some little punk kid tells the storyteller that Keilan can do magic. So Keilan gets taken away.
But then the Queen gets wind of him and wants to bring him to her kingdom where he can train in the Scholia and harness his gift. (It’s explained in the book how the Queen knows about Keilan by the way.) So she sends over Vhelan (a senior magister) and his knife (i.e., bodyguard, secret weapon, friend, etc.) Nel. They + a group of people go out and rescue Keilan from the Pure in order to bring him to the Queen.
MEANWHILE, there’s Jan who we very quickly discover is practically immortal. Unfortunately, he has lost his memory. (Don’t you hate it when you can’t remember something from 500 years ago?) He is convinced by his friend Alyanna to seek out the answers on how to regain his memory. Of course, he too seeks out the Queen.
Also, the Pure who originally had Keilan teams up with another man in order to get him back.
There’s a lot going on in this book. At first, the different POVs don’t seem to belong to each other. They’re in the same world, but they still seem incredibly disjointed. Things start coming together, however, and connections are put into place.
I think the way the plot is presented is a definite highlight. At the center of it stands the mysterious Crimson Queen, Cein d’Kara. The book treats her as an enigma but slowly starts to show more and more of her. She’s the driving force of the novel, and it’s done in such an interesting way.
The characters weren’t bad. That is, no one was boring or flat. However, I didn’t find any of them to be entirely well-rounded personally. Perhaps it’s just me, but they all felt distant, as if we only got to see one or two aspects of their personalities.
My one real qualm about the characters has to do with the female characters, mainly Nel and Cein d’Kara. They are great characters. They are both badass women with different strengths. Cein (the Queen) has a great mind and is incredibly headstrong (in a good way), while Nel is a very talented fighter and a great friend. My qualm, then, is that they seem to be stuck with token badass female syndrome. It’s almost as if we’re supposed to think, “Wow! These characters are amazing for being women” instead of just being amazing characters. Again, maybe I’m looking way too deep into things, but I just couldn’t help but feel they had “token character” written over them.
Another small issue I had was that a couple of the characters had slight moustache-twirling qualities — i.e., the kind where you could imagine this exchange: “Why are you doing this?” “Because I’m EEEEVIIILLL. cackles loudly“) It took away a certain appeal, which was…
I liked how, for the most part, neither side was portrayed as completely good or completely bad. We get views from all sides of things, the Magic-supporters and the Magic-haters. Because we see so many POVs, we’re never quite sure what the ulterior motive is (whether for good or for bad) of either side. It makes for an interesting dynamic. So I guess I’d say that with all of the POVs combined, the book is well-rounded, but individually, I think there’s something lacking in each of the characters.
I want to touch briefly on the world-building. It was fine. The actual world itself didn’t really stand out to me to be honest. It had that familiar “yep, this is a fantasy world” feel with just enough unique elements to make it its own world. Honestly, I don’t think the familiarity is a bad thing. If anything, it makes it easier to get into the story. I do wish, though, it had been developed a bit more. Magic being forbidden is briefly touched upon. And then it’s sort of vaguely brought up every now and again. There are also some very cool creatures like wraiths. There’s a creature who can wear the skin of its victims. There are people who can slip in and out of the shadows. But they all fall into the background. Oh no, wraiths! OK, they’re gone. I hope in the sequel (which yes, I do plan on reading) we get to see the world expand a bit more.
Did I like this book? Yes. I liked it enough to want to continue on with the sequel. I had a few problems with the characters and the world-building, though. The plot was great, and the way it was presented was great in my opinion. Overall, I thought the prose was decent. It didn’t stand out to me as being amazing, but I don’t think the prose was supposed to be the focus. The prose gets the job done, which is to let the plot shine through. The Crimson Queen stands at the heart of the story; she is a magnet pulling everything towards her. Will you be pulled in, too?