Astrid Scholte, Four Dead Queens, Allen & Unwin, March 2019, 432 pp., RRP $19.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781760524418
Four Dead Queens is Astrid Scholte’s debut novel. It is a YA murder/mystery set in a fantasy/sci-fi world. Quadara is a world divided into four quadrants, each represented by their own queen. These four queens work together, devoting their lives to maintaining peace and harmony. Scholte has endeavoured to create a unique world. Many aspects of this world work very well, however, some don’t. The sketchy background history she gives doesn’t adequately explain the differences between the quadrants; who would want to live in Archia, where they appear to live in the dark ages, valuing hard work and doing it tough, when in Ludia, they could live a life of luxury, frivolity and music? It seems a little tenuous to me.
I don’t think I’m giving too much away to say that all four queens meet a sticky end! Our heroine, Keralie, is a thief, working for Mackiel – think of the artful dodger and Oliver Twist and you get the drift. Except Keralie loves Mackiel and thinks Mackiel loves her. I can hear the alarm bells ringing loud and clear. When she steals a package from a messenger, she uncovers a conspiracy that will destroy Quadara. Reluctantly, Keralie joins forces with said messenger, Varin Bollt and together they try to uncover who is responsible for the murder of the queens. And, of course, a certain frisson ensues between them, which I felt was a little predictable and unnecessary. And I have to say, if Varin “raked his hand through his hair” once, I think he did it ten times throughout the novel – please?
Here are the negatives: too long – 418 pages – needed a good editor. Keralie should have been a strong, female character, instead I found her rather unpleasant and sometimes very mean. The ‘love story’ added nothing to the narrative and felt perfunctory. Scholte says she loves Disney – this shows, particularly in the portrayal of the male characters, who are all broad-shouldered hunks!
Here are the positives: this is a stand alone novel – hooray! As a first novel, I feel Astrid Scholte shows real promise. There is violence, but it is in context and not gratuitous, so this novel could be enjoyed by younger readers (Year 7+).
In short, my criticisms are not major and I would happily recommend this book to high school readers who enjoy fantasy and mystery. I think that it will be popular, particularly with a female readership, and I am looking forward to seeing what Astrid Scholte writes next.
Reviewed by Gaby Meares