Every so often, I think of this book and smile. It’s not that it’s a perfect book by any means. It has it’s pitfalls. But for what it is, Long May She Reign is a delightful, charming read. The biggest thing that charmed me was the protagonist. Fraya is refreshingly different from the YA fantasy heroine trope. She’s not kickass. She’s not girly. But she’s also not a damsel in distress. Instead, she’s smart and resourceful and fit to take important matters to task. And she’s not afraid to speak her mind and stand up for what is right.
I should, perhaps, preface this with the plot. Right from the first chapter, Thomas places her readers in this lavish, beautiful royal feast. Everyone’s gorgeously dressed in elaborate court outfits, acrobats and contortionists are performing between tables, and doves fly out of a pie. It’s big and bold and she’s making a flashy statement from the get go. What I love about this set up is that it perfectly reflects the greedy conspicuous consumption of this corrupt king and really creates the tone for the remainder of the novel.
Just when you think we’re getting this beautiful, over the top royal aesthetic for the rest of the narrative, the entire court dies of poisoning. And in one fell swoop, Fraya becomes next in line for the throne. What remains is a twisty, turny murder mystery on a large scale, paired with some admirable character development on Fraya’s part. There’s a certain quiet dose of classic Sherlock Holmes in this. Unlike many fantasy novels these days, Long May She Reign is far from action packed. Instead, Thomas brings the excitement back to a more cerebral level as we watch Fraya use her science smarts and cunning to unravel the whodunnit. Effectively, she’s Watson and Holmes all rolled into one and I love that in a female protagonist.
Although this novel is essentially set in a medieval fantasy plot, there’s something about it that feels very Victorian. Fraya’s scientific reasoning harkens back to the early days of forensic science, when doctors were still trying to discover how to detect arsenic in everyday matter. Rarely ever do I see female characters engaging in science in young adult novels and it brings me so much joy to see Fraya really excelling at it and revelling in her work. She’s not ashamed of being a scientist, nor does she bow to anyone’s will if ever they tell her it’s not her place to do such investigations. Her scientific curiosity makes her a very different kind of fantasy queen, and a much needed one at that.
Fraya is not a girl who ever expected to become queen. About a dozen down the line to inherit the throne, she was not meant to become queen. Yet it happens, and at first, she’s reluctant. She has grand plans to make the next great scientific discovery and invent something useful enough so she can gain notoriety and get out of her greedy town. She’s got aspirations beyond the kingdom. She wants to make something of herself.
And at first, becoming queen isn’t going to grant her that.
Of course, in time, she comes to realise how corrupt the court truly is and she starts to realise that she has a voice, and she’s in control. She calls the shots and no one else. People will try to pull her strings and manipulate her into doing what they want, but she wants none of it. The minute she has that epiphany, it’s her way or the highway. No more lavish spending, the poor are going to get their due, she really pulls it together despite the odds.
This is exactly what I need out of female characters! I need girls who get shit done! Because that’s exactly the type of role model young girls need right now more than ever! We need to be teaching them that they can do science. They can be effective leaders.
They have a voice!
I am beyond thrilled to see Rhiannon Thomas sharing such a message, and I’m excited to see what she does in the future because true, self-aware, feminist YA authors are few and far between. And they deserve all the attention we can give them.
“Kaz leaned back. “What’s the easiest way to steal a man’s wallet?”
“Knife to the throat?” asked Inej.
“Gun to the back?” said Jesper.
“Poison in his cup?” suggested Nina.
“You’re all horrible,” said Matthias.”