Sunday, December 18, 2011

Book review: The Fallen Queen by Jane Kindred

The Fallen Queen (The House of Arkhangel'sk)The Fallen Queen by Jane Kindred

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I met Jane Kindred at a women's retreat for a San Francisco Bay Area org-- many moons ago. She stood out in the group because she was personable, smart as a whip and attractive. During that weekend Jane shared about some of her writings, but I was just beginning to read erotica so I wasn't familiar with any of her work. Several weeks later, Jane was in attendance at another of this organization's get-togethers-- and this time she played host. And Jane was the consummate host-- making us all comfortable, serving us yummy food and providing some entertainment. This evening, that entertainment took the form of tarot readings-- Jane pulled out a deck and offered to read each of us. I watched in fascination as Jane read each person, with nervous titters from the observers as the cards revealed various outcomes. My turn came last, as I wasn't in any hurry to see what the tarot cards would say-- I didn't really believe in that sort of thing, but was willing to go along for the hell of it.  It wasn't too long, though, before the mood seemed to change from frivolity to...I don't know what!  I was taken aback by how quiet Jane got as she dealt my cards. As a matter-of-fact, Jane's hands were shaking as she spread the tarot cards out. I honestly don't remember anything that was said during the reading that day,  but Jane's response to me has stuck in my mind all these 14+ years. It takes more than a questionable tarot reading to scare me off, so after that night I did what I could to follow Jane's writing career online (hmmm, that sounds a little stalkerish, doesn't it? It really wasn't...mostly. hehehe).



I am glad that I kept tabs on Jane. I love her lyrical style of writing and how she takes chances with characters and subject matter. I thoroughly enjoyed her novella, The Devil's Garden, a richly woven tale of gender fluidity and love. I knew I was in for a treat when I read about her latest novel, The Fallen Queen. What's not to love about a book with angels and demons, falling dynasties, an ice queen, Russia, two male lovers and the young woman who forever changes their lives?



If you want to read a synopsis of The Fallen Queen, you can find that here (scroll down to "Heaven can go to hell" section): http://www.janekindred.com/books/the-hou... . This review is a bit spoilery-- but it's difficult to discuss such an epic tale without bringing up some plot points.



There are several things I absolutely love about this novel. Jane Kindred is a gifted a storyteller. What really caught my attention about The Fallen Queen was that the book is inspired by the fall of the Romanov dynasty in early 20th Century Russia. The Fallen Queen almost serves as a frame story, a shadowing of  the  execution of  the Romanov royals-- the tsar and tsarina, their four daughters and one son. Or perhaps those earth-bound events in Russia's history are framed by the coup in Heaven that takes place in the novel. In this urban fantasy, Heaven is an alternative universe with a similar set of circumstances to Tsarist Russia-- political unrest brought on by ineffective leadership, war and resentments of the working class.



Grand Duchess Anazakia Helisonovna (the Fallen Queen of this tale) is an indulged princess, the daughter of the supernal ruler of the House of Arkhangel'sk.  The majority of the story is told through Anazakia's memoirs. Anazakia is an angel, but not exactly angelic, as she  escapes execution  because she has slipped off to find mischief at a casino, while the rest of her family meets their doom at the hands of her deranged cousin. Anazaki's story mirros the pop culture stories of Anastasia Romanov's escape from her family's execution. Anazakia unwittingly falls in with a couple of demons--   Belphago and Vasily, air and fire demons, respectively. Anazakia, as innocent and inexperienced as she is, does not completely trust these Fallen demons, but has little choice but to put her faith in them until she can figure  a way out of her situation (when her escape from execution is discovered a team of angelic enforcers is sent to retrieve her).



I can imagine that some readers would be put off by a story filled with angels and demons, but Jane really bends the usual heaven/hell/earth motif to her will. Kindred draws on some of the names and descriptions of the angelic hosts, fallen angels or demons of the Christian mythos. There are Seraphims, Nephilims, Cherubim (there are some extra-biblical classes added for good measure) and their abodes within various dominions and principalities-- any student of the bible would have at least a passing familiarity with these terms. But, Kindred turns the KJV on its head-- this is not a simple angels-good  vs demons-bad story: the demons Vasily and Belphago are the heroes, here.



Oh, and usually biblical accounts don't include fairies-- and as much as I usually dislike fairies (which is funny, because I love "fairy" tales), the fae in this story serve their purpose and don't overwhelm the story. I must say, that trying to keep up with all the different bands and factions of angels and demons-- and humans, once our main characters fall to the World of Man (semi-modern day Russia-- the timing isn't exactly nailed down)--is a bit daunting, but Kindred does include a hierarchy at the beginning of the book that should help readers out. I've got to say that there's enough world-building here for a rather elaborate video game.



Speaking of the World of Man, one of my favorite parts of the book is when Anazakia finds her self in a parallel universe-palace, that mirrors the one where she has grown up, and where her loved ones were murdered. It seemed to me that this is the place in the story where Anazakia sobers up and starts to grasp how her world of privilege has passed, just as it did for Russia's royal family in 1917. This is but one instance where Anazakia must make sense of her predicament and seek a way out-- and it seems like it ultimatelys takes all of heaven and earth to restore the Fallen Queen.



One of my favorite characters in The Fallen Queen is Aeval. I don't know how to pronounce this bitch's name, but "evil" certainly seems to fit! Aeval is the epitome of a "ice queen"-- she has very little regard for the suffering of others, is madly driven to having her way, is cold to the touch, and has a sparkly white wardrobe. Just as in Hans Christian Andersen's Snow Queen, we have a frosty temptress that bespells a prince, Kae, Anazakia's cousin, who has been overpowered by Aeval and tasked with carrying out her evil biddings. I really shouldn't feel sorry for Kae, because his own lust for power and position renders him susceptible to the Aeval's corruption, but he's not the first character (and certainly won't be the last)  to fall under the charms of evil woman.



This is starting to sounds like one major run-on sentence, so I'll try to move things along. Romance! Ah, there's an abundance of romance in The Fallen Queen. To me, Anazakia is so much, in turns, a spoiled brat or an annoyingly naive angel that I found that I really didn't care if she ever found love or not. The relationship between Belphagor and Vasily, though, tugged at my heartstrings. Yeah, I'm a sucker for demon love stories, and their's is BDSM-tinged and orientation-fluid-- there were just enough angsty-goings on to keep me glued to the story. Belphagor may be the "Prince of Tricks," but his love for Vasily brings out all of the most noble in him.



The Fallen Queen is a very complex story, and there are many more things I could discuss about it, but I'm really trying to scale back so that my reviews aren't longer than the source material.  There are so many other things in the story worth looking into-- the Romany/Gypsies and the part these humans play in knocking down Queen Aeval quest for empire. I wanted to know more about Vashti, Demetri and Nephilim politics. Just what kind of organization is  Knud really a part of? The fairies-- what's their agenda? Perhaps these and other questions will be answered in the next installment-- The Fallen Queen will be followed up with a sequel called The Midnight Court, coming in early 2012.



The Fallen Queen fascinated me as much as its author has all these years. This novel is a fantastical blend of great storytelling, myth and legend, adventure, magic, political intrigue and a hint of  social consciousness. Tall order, sure-- but Jane Kindred more than pulls its off. I highly recommend this one.









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