Except the Queen

( 5 )

Overview

Sisters Serena and Meteora were proud members of the high court of the Fairy Queen-until they were cast out from court, stripped of their powers, and banished to the brutish mortal realm of Earth-where they discover a long-forgotten dark force that threatens both fairy and human worlds.

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Overview

Sisters Serena and Meteora were proud members of the high court of the Fairy Queen-until they were cast out from court, stripped of their powers, and banished to the brutish mortal realm of Earth-where they discover a long-forgotten dark force that threatens both fairy and human worlds.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
World Fantasy Award–winning Yolen (Dragon’s Heart) teams up with Snyder (The Innamorati) to weave a magical tale. After Serana and Meteora stumble across a secret that could damage the reputation of the Fairy Queen, the close-knit fae siblings are separated and banished to Earth. Stripped of youth, beauty, and magic, they struggle to adapt to the baffling modern world. In New York, Serana meets a feral young man whose talent for music is uncanny. In Milwaukee, Meteora finds refuge in the legendary Baba Yaga’s house, where she befriends a troubled woman being stalked by a murderous tattooist. As the various players converge for a deadly showdown, the truth behind the sisters’ exile is revealed. Unconventional narrative techniques and a full dose of magic and folklore give this urban fantasy a lyrical, mythic feel. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Exiled from the Court of the Fairy Queen for their discovery of a royal secret, sisters Serana and Meteora find themselves trapped in aging mortal bodies—one in Milwaukee and the other in New York City. When each becomes caretaker of a troubled young person, the sisters enter into a grand scheme that has its roots in the twin worlds of mortal and fae and that could save or destroy them both. VERDICT Award-winning coauthors Yolen (Sister Light, Sister Dark) and Snyder (The Innamorati) transform the modern world with their tale of hidden magic and the power of love. Reminiscent of the urban fantasy of Charles de Lint in their ability to blend human characterizations with the world just beyond the borders of human perception, the authors succeed in crafting a modern fairy tale that should appeal to a broad readership. Highly recommended.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780594429494
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/5/2011
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen is an author of children's books, fantasy, and science fiction.
Midori Snyder is the author of eight books for children and adults.

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Read an Excerpt

1

The Queen Remembers

You are in the forest that is not your own. You squint at its brightness; the sunlight bleaching the familiar green, the scent of the trees dusty as pressed flowers. You have come out of curiosity, and shivering beneath the glamour you are wearing, you roam through the quiet pines and birch. You have left behind your armor, your rank, your power, your great age. Here you are young, beautiful and fragile as the lily, your throat white and perfumed. Birds trill a warning and fall quiet. And then you hear it, a man singing softly under his breath, something tuneless, without true shape to change the world.

You stop and wait, frozen as the deer, for this is what you have come to see, to learn, to experience. For an eternity you have existed in another time, but now you are in this moment, and desire burns away the practiced control.

You see him weaving in and out of the sunlight, his chestnut hair stippled like a fawn's hide. Yet he moves purposefully, hunting for you. You can smell the oil of his rifle, cradled in the crook of his arm. Alarm prickles your skin, crying run. But you will not. You want to see what happens. You want to know what it feels like, that pain that is human love, that weakness that binds stronger than spells. You, who have never given so much as a mustard seed of power away for free, you have come to give yourself away.

The man moves into the clearing and hesitates as if he knows you are there. And why should he not feel you? Have you not come here the last three days to spy on him? He is well made, with a comely face that pleases you. He is dressed like an oriole, the dark wool of his coat partially covered by a shrill orange that makes it easy to spot him even in the brush.

You study his face, wondering if you can allow yourself this indulgence. All the others have had their dalliances, their madcap affairs—everyone except the Queen. But you are here now and strangely calm as he turns toward you. You raise your arm and the dun-colored sleeve covers your face as you bend from your supple waist. You hold your breath for you hear the soft snick of the gun, feel its eye upon you, and you brace yourself for the stinging touch of iron.

The shot cracks the air open like a nut and it is too late to change your mind. You cry out as the bullet passes beneath your ribs and out your back. How could you have known it would hurt so much? Blood spills, staining your white shift crimson and you fall into a nest of autumn-bitten bushes. You can hear him now, running toward you, the gun dropped behind him when you screamed. Already he bleeds too; despair, hope, and love spilling out for you as he runs to where you wait, wounded in the blood-stained green.

2

Meteora Spills a Secret

In the Greenwood, the fey do not write accounts of their own doing. Yes, we have bards whose entire lives are spent composing heroic verses to praise those we claim as heroes or those great and terrible loves that have nearly destroyed whole clans. Yes, we have history. But we do not care much for personal memory. When you live each day as we do, nearly immortal, there is no day that is unlike the other, there are no rites of passage but those of the seasons, there is no memory of consequence. Each day is the same tale, so there is no need to remember it at all.

But the Queen has requested that my sister Serana and I chronicle our time in the world and so it must be. And in this body unexpectedly aged by exile, it is indeed comforting to record these events for myself and my sister. We can no longer return to what had been for us a blithe and pretty life among the green. We have been transformed by exile that made us strangers dependent on the generosity of other strangers quite unlike ourselves. Our fey lives have been deepened with the tincture of mortality.

How it began was simple enough. Serana and I had escaped to the edge of the Greenwood, looking for sport. Lovesick boys wandered in these margins, saplings with sad eyes and dirty nails. There were rough-hewn men sometimes, but then, we were strong enough in magic to tame those flat-footed satyrs into playmates. We were beautiful then; our bodies fleshed full and ripe, skin scented with honeysuckle, and shoulders dusted with amber pollen. Bees kissed our mouths and our lips as ruby as pomegranate seeds.

On that day we heard the moans and the soft slap of skin against skin before we saw the couple. Serana, her berry-black eyes wide with delight placed a finger against her lips to remind me to be still. I suppressed the giggle, though it bubbled in my throat. We crept silently through the brush, following the sound, stopping only when we had reached the boundary between our world and theirs. The green shadows hid us in the leafy arms of a viburnum, its tiny fruit dangling like drops of blood.

On a field of cut grass, someone had spread out a blanket, and on the blanket was a golden-haired child in a pale blue dress sleeping soundly on her back. Pretty thing she was, with pouting lips, creamy round cheeks touched in the middle with a bright red blush. Serana and I exchanged looks and I knew what she was thinking—that we should steal her; bring her back to court as our precious pet, our wild strawberry.

We glanced around and realized that the couple had indeed slipped into the woods a little way so as not to disturb the napping child. Their moans were reaching a crescendo, something that of course amused us even more than the child. We crawled through the bushes and parting the branches, we saw them.

It was known that the Queen did not engage in carnal play as the rest of us did. She held herself aloft, as though her power and her crown made her untouchable to such passionate fires. Or so we had thought. Even as I write this now, I am struck remembering how vulnerable she looked in his arms—head thrown back, the pulse of her veins against the white skin, her shimmering hair falling on the ground like spilt honey from the comb.

And the man? Mortal, we knew by the gamey smell that prickled our noses. We were shocked into laughter. Imagine our haughty, Highborn Queen rolling in the dirt with a common man. I recall very little of his looks, only that we could not fathom how this man had found favor enough in the eyes of the Queen that she should shield the brilliance of her power beneath a glamour intended to make her seem ordinary as a haymaker. And I know that even as we choked on the surprised laughter, the sound escaped in peals that rang clear as a wind chime disturbed by a breeze.

The child began to cry. The couple sat up, dazed for a moment. Wariness hardened the man's features as his eyes searched for us. We were not afraid of him, for we knew he could never see us in the Greenwood. But the Queen could and before she could rise from the ground, Serana grabbed my hand and we ran, scampering through the dense brush like squirrels back to our own nests.

The Queen was cold and merciless and we knew that punishment would be swift and unpleasant if we were found. So all that day and night we hid in the hollowed trunk of a knotted pine, our arms wrapped around each other, fearing the sound of her hunting horns. Serana whispered hiding spells softly over and over, and I—for once—was very quiet.

But except for the patter of rain that fell on the second day, the Greenwood remained silent of rumor. On the third day we came to the conclusion that perhaps we had escaped unseen. And perhaps, if we kept the secret to ourselves and told no one, the Queen might never know that it was us who had spied upon her in the woods.

"You must never tell," Serana warned. "The Queen will not forget this."

We returned to court as innocent as lambs. Seasons came and went, and though there were many times I wanted to spill our secret while frolicking with a new playmate, I did as my sister instructed and remained quiet about it. But my cheek twitched during the solemn court rituals to see the Queen standing at regal attention, so unlike that time in the woods. And then I would feel Serana's hot gaze, the stern set of her lips beneath her flashing eyes, reminding me to forget that old secret once and for all.

But an arrow loosed in the world must eventually find its mark, and there are few secrets that do not eventually fly into the shell of an ear.

I was napping in a field, when through my dreaming I overheard a pack of boogans talking as they set traps on a farmer's field.

"Do ya think he's one? You know, the one that giped the old girl. Aww . . . can you imagine that, then? Her on her back, legs to the sky. What a sight, eh?"

"Nah," chaffed another voice. "She said it were a different man. Not a farmer."

"What then?"

"The mason, you know a man who lays the bricks."

The boogans were guffawing now. "He laid her, 'tis true. Trowel in hand, he stuffed her, he did, working that yellow hair of hers into the dirt, while the babe wailed in its cradle."

From the depths of sleep I blurted out, "Did Serana tell you about the Queen and her man?" I sat up and rubbed my eyes, confused. Then turned in horror to see the boogans, stunned into silence.

They stared at me slack-jawed, their bottom tusks more in evidence than usual. They were surprised as much by my question as by my sudden resurrection in the field. But their expressions quickly turned sly, then nasty, the leers splitting their faces till they looked like frogs.

"Oy, then, so the Queen herself is a-laying with the mason. Busy man he is. And she got with a wailing baby too. Now that is news!"

"No, you misunderstood me. Not the Queen." I tried to call the words back into my mouth.

"You said the Queen. Your sister was it told you?" The boogans snickered. "We all heard you and anyway who cares if it's true or not? It's a good lark. And we'll just blame the pair of you if we get caught." Their heads goggled excitedly. "Let's away then, boogans, there's more tricks afoot to be played with this thread of news than watching a farmer's old nag turn lame in one of our holes."

They dashed away into the green and I knew that within a heartbeat, the story would grow and I would be the root of it no matter how far the branches spread, or how bright the leaves of the tale unfurled. I spoke from a dream and there it was, the secret nocked to the quickest arrow in the quiver. There was nothing I could do to stop the rumor. I had to find my sister to warn her. We needed to hide, somewhere safe from the Queen's wrath. The Highborn clans were gathering at the Great Hall, Under the Hill, and I prayed that we might have the chance to scamper while they were so engaged.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 22, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder team up with a winner

    The two Fae sisters, Serana and Meteora accidentally uncover a secret that at a minimum would ruin the reputation and credibility of the Fairy Queen. Before they can react, the pair loses their magical skills and looks, separated and exiled to Earth.

    Serana lands in the strangest world she has ever seen, New York City; Meteora likewise feels the same way about Milwaukee. Serana meets a homeless boy who suffers from dark apocalyptic visions; Meteora meets a young girl with an incredible tattoo on her neck that could only mean an artist with magic powers who wants to kill the beholder of his work. Soon all will conjoin as the mortal and Fae realms are threatened with total destruction.

    This is a great urban fantasy with an atypical feel to the story line that enhances the otherworldly tale. Fast-paced from the onset, fans will welcome the siblings as each struggles with adjusting to the world of the mortals. The sisters make the thriller work as their adaptation is slow and before they can partially adjust, they are caught up in a save two realms scenario. Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder team up with a winner as fans see New York and Milwaukee through the eyes of "political immigrants".

    Harriet Klausner

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 3, 2010

    Pitch Perfect

    My, these two play well together! I'm joking of course, anyone who's ever done any knows that writing is hard work and takes dedication, it's just that these two writers really meld their considerable talents together seamlessly in a way that seems like enchanted play. It hit absolutely all the right buttons for me: the faery lore was authentic, it made great use of herb lore & magic, it wove the far different worlds of Faery and contemporary America together in a way that felt like a balm to me, for our cement and iron cities feel like they could never touch the healing green, and yet maybe, just maybe. Also, as a middle aged woman myself, I couldn't help but relate to Meteora and Serana's plight with their new/old and very different bodies, though at least I've had time to grow into the reality of my own! The sisters adjustments to 21st century life added moments of unexpected humor, as the reader gets treated to just how strange our world looks and sounds, and the details we understand without even thinking of them (like the stamps that must be affixed for a letter to be taken by "Eagle mail") made their understanding and learning all the more real.

    To me this novel is every bit the equal of the best of Charles deLint, but without any sense of borrowing; their voice and tone in this is very much their own. I think the first thing I ever read by Jane Yolen was a long time ago in a collection of short faery fiction edited by Terri Windling. Yolen's piece was titled _The Thirteenth Fae_ and as I read it, I quickly realized I was in the presence of a master of the genre. She sets a tone with language that makes you swear she must be working with something other than words alone. Such is the case here with _Except the Queen_. The language is fermented in some fae decoction that just took me away. Though I don't know quite how they divided the work, the blending of ideas and tone is flawless. This book is one I will read again, just to perhaps discover how they did it, though I don't think for a minute I will -- it's a faery touched work for sure, and I'll bet I'll only be shown as much as they want me to see.

    Overall, quite a treasure for lovers of fae or urban fantasy.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 19, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A Must Read!

    I absolutely fell in love with this book from the very beginning. Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder give it a skillful and talented hand of Wicca, herbal, and fairy lore knowledge and influence. Thankful that I have read other supernatural books with fairy characters, either main or mentioned, it made reading about the characters in 'Except The Queen' familiar to me, especially the Dark Lord and his Hunt, and Baba Yaga, the Great Witch. Having witnessed the Queen's indiscretion with a low mortal, the twin fey sisters are punished and exiled from Greenwood, by the unquestionable command of the Queen's very own hand. "Dabbling with mortals is frowned upon among the Highborn of the Seelie court, and for these Highborn, purity of the blood matters more than one's name, even more than one's status." The sisters find themselves separated, mortal, stripped of their youth, and without magic. In a world full deadly iron, one will find a young boy whose past and blood is poisoned, and the other will find a young girl who is tattooed and tortured, the once fey sisters begin to work out their place in the puzzle involving the two teens. Perhaps they weren't exiled and separated. Perhaps they were sent by the Queen for a reason. However, once they see the signs mounting all around them, the members of the UnSeelie court hunting mortals with total disregard to the rules and without the guardianship of the Seelie court, they know that far worse is at stake than just bringing to two together. Highborn in service to the Dark Lord are making the way for the Great War and total rule by the UnSeelie court.

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  • Posted March 27, 2010

    Adult Material

    I love science fiction and fantasy books and have enjoyed books by this author before, however, I found this book a little difficult to follow, the plot was divided. It contained adult situations and I felt that it would not be good for children under the age of 17.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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