How to Catch a Queen by Alyssa Cole
Shanti has always had one dream in life: become a queen. So when she finally achieves this goal by marrying the king of the isolated kingdom of Njaza, she should be elated. But Njaza is a kingdom where queens last only four-months, and her king is less than enthused about marrying her. Shanti, however, isn’t going to let that stop her.
I LOVED THIS.
How to Catch a Queen is the start of a new trilogy (I hope!) that are companion novels to the Reluctant Royals trilogy, operating in the same world and with secondary characters from the other books. Shanti had featured briefly in A Princess in Theory, as the crown-grasping girl who Naledi throws up on. She didn’t get a lot of page-time in that book, and what page-time she had was unflattering, to say the least, but I was so happy to see her shine and get a chance to grow.
And grow she did. Her goal of queenship was not a naive child’s dream, but one where she had evaluated the world and her place in it, and decided on the best ways to make real change. And she dedicated herself to her dream, from a commoner striving into royalty for a reason—she knew politics, she knew history, she was well-versed in ruling, government, economy, agriculture, revolution and everything else.
So throwing her into a queenship at last, and to have that queenship be in a world where women have been silenced—and the most important woman in the country was a revolving door of endless wives—was a slap to the face.
He’d been raised to be a warrior king in a world that didn’t need one, but somehow he’d never won a battle of stubbon will with this whip-thin old man who’d never raised a hand to him.
However, as enjoyable as Shanti’s storyline was, I was more intrigued by her love interest, the taciturn king, Sanyu. Whoooo that man had some emotional baggage and unresolved trauma.
Sanyu’s character was fascinating, as he was a sensitive man who had had his sensitivity and compassion nearly beaten out of him. He had suppressed all memories of kindness from women, and had repressed any affection for the queens who had flitted in and out of his life so much. He had also been emotionally and physically abused by his father and his father’s main advisor, who had been trying to train him into caricatures of themselves in an attempt to shoehorn Sanyu into a world that didn’t need a warrior king, but a leader with flexibility, vision and compassion.
So Sanyu coped with all this—and the death of his father—by shutting down emotionally and walling himself off. Which…is a coping mechanism often used by victims of emotional abuse.
If the most important woman in the land is little more than a temporary trinket—not even a trophy, which is shown off—then the seamstress and the shop owner and the shepherdess shouldn’t expect any better. There’s an ugly brilliance to it, and the fact that it might not have been purposeful makes it worse.
Ugh, how do I even begin to describe or sum up the layers to this book?! The romance is cute and all that, and I enjoyed the marriage before love trope, but the real ways this book shines is in its commentary about women’s place in society and how history is told.
Sanyu lived his entire life surrounded by and steeped in propaganda. When he was born, a song was made up about him filled with heroism and rousing rah-rah-nationalism. He grew up with the living legends of his father and his advisor, in a land that had recently thrown off its colonizers and adapted its own history to fit the legend of the king.
Every kingdom is a story. Every government is a story.
I hardly ever think about concepts that are presented as fact. Like governments and nations. A nation is a concept, made real by the story presented to its people. That story is one that unites, and generally is told through a cherry-picked selection of historical anecdotes that create a shared vision and communal history.
The book thoroughly explores what happens in a land where history is rewritten by the victors—who is left out, what truths are told and what lies are promoted and for what purpose? What happens to those whose voices are silenced, either voluntarily or by force? What is the purpose of history, after all, and what happens when leaders forget their purpose in favor of a mythologized past?
There are…some hard parallels made to the modern world here.
Johan: Before you go, I was wondering if you could share your workout routine? I thought my thigh game was top-tier, but I’m trying to get on your level.
Sanyu: Try twenty-eight years of training with the Njazan Royal Guard.
Johan: Hm. I’ll do more lunges and see what happens.
Last but not least—I loved the secondary characters! Old favorites pop up, particularly Johan and Nya (and Johan’s family’s history as Njaza’s colonizers), and they are delightful and provide (often reluctant) frameworks of support for both Shanti and Sanyu.
Plus, I loved the woman who appeared in the novel, particularly the grumpy librarian and Shanti’s revolutionaries, who lived a forgotten history. I can’t say anything more without spoiling things, but there was a van ride that had me tearing up so badly.
Also, I really, really need Cole to write the screenplay of that fantasy romance, because I need some ridiculous but incredibly serious chickenshifters with a romance between a rooster, an alpha hen and a beta hen. I need more!
I cannot wait for book 2!
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.