After the Inundation at the end of The Orphan Queen, things are looking bleak for Wil. Patrick has betrayed her, leaving Prince Tobiah – her friend and best chance at reclaiming her kingdom peacefully – fighting for his life. And there’s the persistent problem of the wraith, which threatens to consume them all. I reviewed The Orphan Queen on my blog last year, and now I’m here to tell you why, if you’ve read that book already, its sequel should be on your TBR (and if you haven’t read The Orphan Queen, do!).
One of the things I love about the worldbuilding is the overt parallels between magic and technology, and the way magic has historically replaced technology in this world. To an extent, this is common to many fantasy worlds; wizards in Harry Potter don’t use cars (Muggle fanatics like Mr Weasley excepted) because they have brooms and floo powder. In the world of The Mirror King, in contrast, magic allowed the creation of very similar technology to what we know of as scientific inventions: trains, printing presses, steel bridges. The loss of that technological innovation gives the series something of a dystopic, post-apocalyptic feel, though it is still firmly rooted in high fantasy.
The duology’s world has been thrust back into a pre-industrial society because of the use of magic has created a genuine, horrifying problem: the wraith, a destructive magical residue with no apparent way to stop its encroachment. Mistrust of magic isn’t ignorance; it’s prudent. At the same time, Meadows understands the line between prudence and prejudice; taking care to prevent magic use that creates Wraith does not make it right to punish people for having been born with magical ability. At various times characters, and society as a whole, do cross this line, treating people like Wil with wariness because of a trait she was born with.
The nuances between prudence and prejudice are further blurred with Wil’s actions. Wil wasn’t just born with magic. She uses it. Yes, her reasons for using it are sometimes very good, but the repercussions are still her responsibility. Nowhere is this more clear than in the wraith boy she creates at the end of The Orphan Queen. She saves the city from the encroaching wraith, but in doing so creates an amoral creature whose only goal is to please her, and who takes the realisation of that goal to terrifying lengths. This means that not all of the fear and mistrust directed at her is unjust, but there are still those who persist in taking things too far, including Tobiah’s uncle, Prince Colin.
Prince Colin is a fantastic antagonist. He’s a greedy sleazebag whose main goal appears to be maintaining his control over Aecor – and extending that to the Indigo Kingdom, if he can swing it. He’s the kind of antagonist who makes your skin crawl, and I think he’s utterly necessary as a foil towards the other main human antagonist of the series: Wil’s sometime associate, Patrick Lien. Colin and Patrick both throw away the lives of the people of Aecor, and both do so in order to consolidate their power over the kingdom. The difference is that Patrick really does believe that what he does is necessary to reinstate Wil on the throne and to reclaim Aecor’s independence, while Colin merely sees Aecor as a stepping stone to the Indigo Kingdom.
The Mirror King provides a rich, satisfying conclusion to the duology, tearing things apart and tying them back together in new ways that will leave you frantically turning the pages to find out what happens next.
Nicola’s been enjoying these long summer evenings that mean she can sit in bed at night and read by daylight.