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The Queens of Innis Lear    by Tessa Gratton order for
Queens of Innis Lear
by Tessa Gratton
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2018 (2018)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Tessa Gratton's fantasy novel, The Queens of Innis Lear, is not only an outstanding debut, but it also does a remarkable job of spinning Shakespeare's King Lear in surprising and magical directions, so that, IMHO, it surpasses the original.

Innis Lear is an island rooted in earth magic, rootwaters and holy wells. But it hasn't been the same since its foreign queen Dalat (daughter of a faraway Empress) died. Devastated, King Lear succumbed to grief, clung tightly to his youngest daughter Elia, focused totally on star prophecies, and sealed the holy wells. Since then, his elder daughters, warlike Gaela and manipulative Regan, allied in hating their father, blaming him for their mother's death. They seek the Crown. Elia became a star priestess, suppressing her earth magic to the dismay of her friend and handmaid Aefa.

Elia and Ban (bastard son of Earl Errigal and a witch who was the queen's best friend) were born on the same day and were very close as children. But King Lear, possessive of his youngest daughter's love, sent Ban away to the mainland kingdom of Aremoria. There, Ban almost died, but discovered his connection to earth magic and used it to spy for King Morimaros, who became his friend. He earned the kingdom's respect as Ban the Fox. Now Lear has invited Morimaros to court his daughter Elia, and Ban dreads returning with the king to Innis Lear.

Regan has wed a rival to the crown, Duke Connley. She loves him but has been unable to bear him a child, which is her greatest wish. Gaela has made sure she will never carry a child, but has not shared this with her husband, the warlike Duke of Astore. Gaela is determined to rule Innis Lear, with her sister Regan's help. Summoned by the King, the three sisters answer his demand to know who loves him best ... as in Shakespeare's play. Afterwards, Lear announces that his two eldest will rule jointly, banishing his beloved Elia (the only one who answered honestly).

Matters unfold. Elia seeks refuge in Aremoria, but ultimately returns. King Lear is mistreated by his elder children, as expected. Ban works to advance Morimaros's goals, and also seeks his own revenge, denying his love for his half-brother Rory, whom he betrays. Only Elia (who has no desire to be queen, of either Aremoria or Innis Lear) tries to keep the peace and do what is best for her people. She loves Ban, but puts Innis Lear first. Tension builds to a violent conflagration, in which many of the players die.

Though a satisfying conclusion, it's not an entirely happy one (Shakespeare did write a tragedy after all). I hope that Tessa Gratton will give us more stories in this extraordinary world she has built for her readers.

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