‘When Lia, an idealistic queen, falls for Xania, her new spymaster–who took the job to avenge her murdered father–they realise all isn’t fair in love and treason.
Lia won’t mourn her uncle: he’s left her a bankrupt kingdom considered easy pickings by its neighbours. She’s sworn to be a better ruler, but if she wants to push through her reforms, she needs to beat the Court at its own games. For years, Xania’s been determined to uncover her father’s murderer. She finally gets a chance when Lia gives her a choice: become her new spymaster, or take a one way trip to the executioner’s axe. It’s an easy decision.
When they fall for each other, their love complicates Lia’s responsibilities and Xania’s plans for vengeance. As they’re drawn together amid royal suitors and new diplomats, they uncover treason that could not only end Lia’s reign, but ruin their weakened country. They must decide not only what to sacrifice for duty, but also for each other.’
Queen of Coin and Whispers is one of my favourite reads of this year and I absolutely loved it. The story alternates (for the most part) between the point of view of Lia, a young queen new to her role and learning to navigate her court while trying to undo the harm her uncle has caused, and Xania, who works for the treasury and is set on avenging the murder of her father by whatever means possible. Xania is appointed as Lia’s new spymater, the Master of Whispers, after her intention to kill the man she suspects is responsible for her father’s death is uncovered and she’s given the chance to uncover enough information to condemn him – though the arrangement is not entirely without the threat of her intentions being revealed in a manner that would cost her her life.
Court politics are one of my favourite things to read about, and Queen of Coin and Whispers is primarily based around Lia’s attempts to introduce reforms to help her people, while attempting to work out who in her court – or, more accurately, her late uncle’s court – can be trusted to support her. Her uncle has left Edar bankrupt and with hardly the funds to support itself, standing her in a political landscape that makes her neighbours both her adversaries and people that she must rely on to try and get Edar back on its feet. One way in which she must do this is by marriage, specifically a marriage that will produce a blood heir, which leaves Lia trapped in a situation that means she knows she must marry and is set on doing so for her kingdom, yet she has no interest in men and the relationship that would produce a child of her bloodline. In the world of Queen of Coin and whispers, same sex marriages and relationships are commonplace, and a number of the main characters are involved with those of their own gender, none of which is commented on in a negative manner or set to be out of the ordinary, which was lovely to see and I wish we had more books that treat same sex marriage in the same way. It’s Lia’s case, with her responsibility to her kingdom and laws that demand she produce an heir that is a son or daughter of her own body, that sets her apart and has led to her concealing her preference for women from almost everyone.
As they begin to work together, Lia and Xania grow closer, but neither of them is secure enough in their affection being returned to make any clear overtures for a good while. Their situation is further impacted by their respective ranks – with Xania’s ‘fifth step by mother’s marriage’ something that impacts her belief that she might ever be suitable for a queen – their working relationship of royal and spymaster, and the looming threat of Lia’s marriage all things that keep them dancing around each other, trying to protect themselves and each other. It’s Lia who eventually manages clearer attempts to make her feelings known, in a move that I loved, and gives Xania her favourite romance novel to read – a novel that turns out to be about a relationship between two women. That their relationship, assumed by most to be a friendship that much of the court cannot understand, with Xania being ‘only’ fifth step, is one that the politicians and key players within the court judge and look down on makes it difficult for Xania in particular to believe that she might be safe in a relationship with Lia and get to keep her, her confidence in her work and ability contrasted with her worries and hesitation about what loving Lia means. Despite their feelings and attraction, Lia still goes through with her formal search for a husband, accepting suitors from neighbouring kingdoms, simultaneously daring her court to notice as she highlights her relationship with Xania, while also trying to work out which of her suitors is less likely to ruin her and her kingdom.
As the story progresses, politics and duty further interfere with Lia and Xania’s relationship, and further highlight all that they risk in their honesty with each other and in opening their hearts. While they very clearly adore each as Lia and Xania, the Queen and the Master of Whispers do not always agree on the same course of action, nor have the ability to put their own wishes and morals first when looking at the bigger picture. Lia is increasingly forced into corners that leave her with few options, the more idealistic facets of her nature stepped on by levels of society that want her kingdom to remain how it is, with them in control and profiting, as Xania uncovers the increasingly ugly goings on at court and beyond, witnessing the impact that her intent on revenge has, along with what transformation she sees in Lia.
One of the things I loved most about this book was Xania’s family. Her sister, Zola, is a strong presence in the story, as is her mother, both of whom support her in her work. Her step-father, a role all too often one that is a negative force in YA fiction, very clearly cares for her and wishes for her to be happy, his treatment of her protective, kind, and respectful of the memory of her late father. Though her family do voice concerns about her relationship with Lia, it isn’t because she’s a woman, but because they are worried about their differences in power and status – their main concern being that Lia could cast her aside and therefore prevent her from making any meaningful connection or marriage. In all other respects, they are supportive of her choice and relationship, and actively encourage her love of Lia, and Lia’s intent to prove her own love.
Queen of Coin and Whispers is an excellent and nuanced read that that I couldn’t put down. It’s out on April 23rd! Thank you The O’Brien Press for sending me an ARC for review!