Arca by G. R. Maccalister is the second novel in Macallister’s The Five Queendoms series, picking up where last year’s Scorpica left off. It is published by the Saga Press imprint of Simon and Schuster in America and Titan in the UK. I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Scorpica for Grimdark Magazine and was excited to get my hands on Arca. This epic matriarchal fantasy was a read I enjoyed. Although not very dark, it is a complex fantasy in a richly created world with equal beauty and brutality. Arca is now in North America and will be released in the UK in April 2023. G R Macallister has also published historical fiction as Greer Macallister.
The second novel in the series, Arca, is not where you should begin your journey into The Five Queendoms series. Scorpica is essential prior knowledge to understand the queendoms, their political hierarchies, religious pantheons, and the events in Scorpica which lead to the action of Arca. I enjoyed the first novel, but I should have reread it before jumping into Arca, as there is no preamble or summary explaining what occurred before this in the series. However, there is a list of the key characters of each Queendom, and I found this immensely helpful as a reminder before I started the novel proper.
Like its predecessor, Arca is also a multiple-perspective narrative, with some key characters being new to this story and others more familiar, having also appeared in the first novel. The primary setting this time around is the magical realm of Arca. Still, there are also relevant plots being woven through from the warrior women of Scorpica and the commercial queendom of Paxim. In a matriarchal system, most key characters are women, but that is sometimes their only similarity. Eminel has become Queen of Arca with no formal magical training and little understanding of her court. Heliane, Queen of Paxim, wants to make her son Paulus the first-ever ruling King. And Tamura, the Queen of Scorpica, is lurking in the mountain range that borders both countries with her army, poised to invade even though the Drought of Girls has now ended.
Macallister’s writing is ambitious and intelligent. Arca is engaging to read, even though there is a vast amount of world-building at play in this series. Each narrative perspective is equally interesting. Macallister deftly weaves through all the different storylines throughout the novel so that you do not get lost or confused about who is from where or what this character is doing. One of the only things I did not like about Scorpica was that the relatively short novel covered such a considerable amount of time, and Macallister’s sharp style left me wanting more detail about the world. It is not the case here. Although Macallister’s writing style is unchanged, the plot of Arca only covers about two years, and the novel itself is longer. Even though it took me a few chapters to get back to grips with the queendoms, this meant that overall I found it to be a more immersive reading experience. And although the novel is fast-paced, it did not feel rushed.
Arca has almost all of the elements I love in fantasy novels. It is a masterful showcase of powerful women with battles, magic, and politicking, which takes place in a queer norm world. You might get your throat cut in The Five Queendoms, but it will not be because of who you love. If you enjoy well-written epic fantasy with strong female characters, then a journey into The Five Queendoms should be on your to-do list. If you liked Scorpica, you would love Arca.
I would like to say a massive thank you to G. R. Macallister and the team at Saga Press for sending me a copy of Arca to review it.