A Tyranny of Queens Is a Joyous Reinvention of the Portal Fantasy

Plenty of books follow people from our reality wandering across dimensions into another world (you’ve no doubt heard the name for this kind of book: portal fantasy). It’s far rarer for an author to deal with the real psychological consequences that would no doubt result from such a journey. But that’s just what Foz Meadows does in A Tyranny of Queens, the second book in the Manifold Worlds series, and an engrossing, rewarding continuation of one of last year’s most delightful debuts.

We pick up a mere six days after the end of that book, An Accident of Stars, to explore what happens to someone after the adventure is over and they come crashing back to the “real” world. Saffron tries picking up the threads of her former life, a life before she’d stepped through the portal into Kena, while those back in Kena and Veksh try to piece together some semblance of leadership in the wake of recent upheavals. In a race to save more than they realize, worldwalkers Saffron and Gwen must follow clues left behind centuries before, in a time long forgotten.

Reading A Tyranny of Queens is like riding a roller coaster while never leaving the comfort of your home. I can’t recall the last book that gave me the same feels, and it is all thanks to Meadow’s nuanced, richly-developed characters. I found myself both crying and laughing out loud at various moments, my connection to the story so strong because of the depth of the characters, and the richnesses of the world they inhabit.

And what a cast of characters. Nearly all carry over from An Accident of Stars, though we also meet a few new ones, my favorite being a minor character in a new world, the paladin Nim; feisty, flirty, and fun, they exemplify the care the author has put in developing everyone on the page into a real person. I love the individuality she brings to each character. Each is important for the roles she plays in the plot, yes, but also for the unique ways she views the world(s).

The intrigue of racing along as characters pursue clues across multiple worlds, trying to solve the mystery of Kadeja’s end game, while watching Safi and others acknowledging and processing their PTSD, made for several intensely poignant scenes. Safi manages to find and experience moments of levity when unexpectedly dropped yet again into another new world, as Meadows works to maintain a delicate balance between reality of emotions and the excitement of the fantastical.

Meadows other standout quality is her willingness to trust her worldbuilding—and her readers. We never get bogged down in rehashing the first book or ponderously setting up the world; instead, we get just enough of the essence of each new place to keep pace with the characters, who are likewise constantly playing catch-up. There are continuous point-of-view shifts even within chapters that some might find jarring, but  it perfectly suits this story. When there are clusters of characters on parallel paths that then slowly start to merge, you need frequent point-of-view shifts just to keep up.

I really loved this book. It is more than a simple portal fantasy, it is a masterful touchstone by which I will compare future books in the subgenre. Its characters and its world resonated with me on so many levels, and I can’t wait to see what the authors gives us next.

A Tyranny of Queens is available now.

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