Fucking hell, Myke Cole! Why do you hurt me so?!? What a roller coaster of emotions The Queen of Crows presented.
The Queen of Crows is the follow-up to The Armored Saint, which was one of my favorite reads of 2018. This begins almost immediately after those events and is just intensely hard hitting right out of the gate. It is also much bleaker in tone than The Armored Saint. Heloise is hardened from prior experiences. She isn’t the same girl after having left her childhood behind. She has grown into an empowered young warrior leading her village in rebellion.
“I am neither queen, nor saint, nor devil,” Heloise said, “but it is true that I am knife-handed, and I do lead here.”
This sequel thrusts the reader into the middle of things straight away. Where The Armored Saint was about Heloise’s personal conflicts, The Queen of Crows is focused on her becoming a leader. We see her evolving into a strong and resilient hero protecting her village against the tyranny of the Order. The Order is as vicious as ever, cruelly hunting wizards, those that have come in contact with magic users and those that may be harboring them from the corrupt government. Because Heloise and her fellow villagers have been so isolated within their small community, Cole opens up the worldbuilding when she is forced to flee. He introduces the Traveling People, which puts the spotlight on prejudices and different cultures within their increasingly complex world.
Heloise is an immensely special character in the grimdark genre. She is inspiring in that she wants to stand up against oppression and end suffering, yet she is at war with herself and everyone else around her. She questions her sexuality, her faith, her ability to lead, her family, her loyalty to her village, the human condition… she’s just trying to find her place within the world. I could not love her more!
The length doesn’t leave a lot of room for exploring in great detail, but Cole crafts such a vivid world within a relatively short story. The plot is fast-paced and the characters are fully developed. He doesn’t burden the story with anything unnecessary, achieving something so beautifully realized in half the time it takes most grimdark fantasies. It’s maddening how damn talented he is with so few words!
This was grim, fast-paced, violent, gut-punchy, and profound as hell. It’s about revolutions and oppression, religion and prejudice, it’s bloody and gorgeously heartbreaking. Often unrelentingly brutal and somehow impossibly hopeful, Cole provides an insanely satisfying sequel to The Armored Saint. If you haven’t yet checked out this brilliant world, get thee shoved into your skull! It’s a fresh addition to the grimdark movement.
The Queen of Crows is out today.
(Big thanks to Tor.com Publishing for sending me a copy!)