Book review - Queen of Shades (Eli Hinz)
Queen of Shades, by Eli Hinze, is a Mesopotamian fantasy story. It follows the journey of Kigal on what I can only describe as a fast-paced, wonderfully thought out adventure through the Ancient Near East. If you want something a little different to your traditional fantasy setting, while keeping what is enjoyable of the fantasy book genre, this might be for you.
The plot, which I don't want to spoil, follows Kigal, a woman who spends her life alone, travelling from village to village caring for the dead. She is an outcast to most, yet provides an essential role in society. As the story progresses, she is faced with challenges that force her to confront her place in the world and decide how she wants to live her life. As I say, I don't want to spoil anything, but if gods, demons and mythical creatures are up your street, you're in for a treat. There were definitely a few moments where the action took a completely unexpected twist.
As a novella, the action takes place over a slightly shorter space than a traditional novel, though it doesn't feel like it. It's pacey without being rushed. The world is built thoughtfully and effectively by someone who really knows their stuff. The book does a great job of transporting you to the desert sands and beyond. The setting really deserves further mention because it is so rare to find fantasy books that deviate from the traditional medieval European setting. Hinze does something different and she does it well.
The characterization is similarly strong. Kigal is written as a living, breathing person, not a two-dimensional hero or string of cliches. As this is the first of a multi-part series, this bodes well. The secondary characters are also well developed and 'bounce' off Kigal well in dialogue and action.
Though not a 200k word opus, Queen of Shades nevertheless tackles a number of themes, examining ideas of life, death and what we as people value. It raises questions of duty and freedom and the choices we must make where these things clash. This is a dense, rich book, with dense, well-drawn characters.
I like the novella form; it's a staple in the SFF world. Queen of Shades packs a lot into a (relatively) short space and does it in a thrilling, satisfying way.