The Hedgewitch Queen
By Lilith Saintcrow
Published December 1, 2011
Published by Orbit
Summary from Goodreads:
Vianne di Rocancheil is a lady waiting at the Court of Arquitaine, where she studies her books, watches for intrigue, and shepherds her foolhardy Princesse through the glittering whirl. Court is a sometimes-unpleasant waltz, especially for the unwary, but Vianne treads its measured steps well.
Unfortunately, the dance has changed. Treachery is afoot in gilded and velvet halls. A sorcerous conspiracy is unleashed, with blood, death, and warfare close behind. Vianne must flee, carrying the Great Seal of Arquitaine with her. This is the one thing the conspirators need to rule, and they won’t rest until they have it. A life of dances, intrigues, and fashion has not prepared Vianne for this. Nor has it prepared her for Tristan d’Arcenne, Captain of the King’s Guard and player in the most dangerous games conspiracy can devise. Yet to save her country and avenge her Princesse, Vianne will become what she must and do whatever is required.
A Queen can do no less.
Take every fantasy trope you know of and put it in a blender. There, you've got The Hedgewitch Queen! The book is set in a fantasy version of Europe, with everything given funny but vaguely familiar names. There are stand-ins for the gypsy/Romani people. There's someone with the last name of Wintrefelle, which made me want to shoehorn all these people into George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, just to see who survived. There is court intrigue and annoyingly fake French and small smatterings of magic. Maybe I'm becoming more picky, or maybe this book really is a jumble of fantasy plot devices that I've seen be put to much better use in many other books.
The story starts out with great promise. Vianne is an unlikely lady at Court, orphaned and coming from more humble beginnings than many of the other ladies, but she and the Princesse became fast friends as girls, which endured as they came of age. Of course, there is a conspiracy afoot, one which Vianne stumbles headfirst into, and the story takes off as Arquitaine is plunged into chaos and Vianne must hurry to escape. I love a good story fraught with danger and treason and peril, so I had high hopes, during the first two chapters. It goes downhill from there, though, as the story can't seem to balance whether it wants to be an adventure-fantasy, or a romance between Vianne and Tristan. Many books blend the two seamlessly -- it seems like Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy series is becoming my gold standard, even if they are 100% definitely not YA books -- but The Hedgewitch Queen, unfortunately, does not.
Tristan and Vianne make an "interesting" couple largely because I feel they have absolutely zero chemistry together. The fact that they would have a romantic subplot was evident from the beginning of the story, but yet I felt absolutely no sparks between them. She spends part of the time being annoyed by him, another part being utterly perplexed over the fact that he could be interested in her, and the rest of the time, switches between being a stammering mess and overly confident and grown-up, often with no real reason for the change in personality. I spent roughly the first half of the book being irritated to no end with Vianne, who doesn't do much other than try to scheme to get out of her current situation, or be deathly ill. She's in a terrible situation, sure, and I think anyone would want a way out, but it gets very annoying to read after a while.
I was far more charmed by the minor characters in the book. For example, the rest of the guard who accompany Vianne and Tristan and the various peasants who the group encounters were more interesting and fun to read about than our two leads. I kept reading because I heard there was a big shocker at the end, and I wanted to know what it was. Otherwise, I think I may have given up somewhere in the middle. I also disliked the fact that the book didn't wrap up its plot points before it ended, as it's clearly banking on the reader wanting to read the next book in the series. It doesn't stand alone very well at all, at least, not if you want to have any resolution at all to the situation Vianne has found herself in. This book could have been so much better than it was, but unfortunately, it didn't live up to my expectations.