3 out of 5 stars.
I received an ARC of this book.
Freya is an unimportant noble who spends more time in her lab, occasionally blowing things up. Suddenly, most of the elite in the kingdom are poisoned and Freya is the Queen. She REALLY doesn’t want to do it, but enemies start lining up and it looks like she will have to quickly seize power if she wants to survive. Now she is surrounded by the few remaining survivors and has to figure out who poisoned everyone before they come for her.
This fell really flat for me. Partly because I was set up for something a bit more fantasy-ish, where there was some element of magic. This actually did not have very much fantasy in it whatsoever, besides the setting being a make-believe kingdom. Freya is a scientist and eventually solves the whodunit using her crafty chemistry knowledge. There is no magic in this book, despite explicitly being marketed as one, and the plot revolves around science. I guess I found the combination of fantasy setting and early chemistry one that did not jive well.
This also very quickly devolved into a mystery, peppered with Freya’s adaptation to the new role that has been thrust upon her. She is trying to juggle being queen with also being a crime solving sleuth, and neither role fits her well. It could be a cool premise, but just did not work here. Not enough time was spent exploring her experience of either role, so it comes off as being a shallow exploration of both experiences. Freya tries to find her feet as queen without being overshadowed by her advisors at the same time she is carving out time to hunt murderers. It feels like I did not get enough time with her either as queen or detective to really get to know her and start to like her. The entire book was a lot of exposition and not enough character.
The mystery part of this book wasn’t the best done mystery I have ever read. They lined up the suspects (pretty much every character) and went investigating, but it seemed like, after a couple of clues, the mystery was already over and the villain was rounded up. There was a clever twist (no spoilers!) but overall it seemed foreshortened and a little simplistic. I was expecting a tense, drawn out mystery riddled with clues and surprises, and I think this fell short of that. Part of it was the previously mentioned problem of too much content around Freya being queen, but I still think it could have been a more interesting, meandering route to get to the finish and solve the mystery.
Overall, this book was a somewhat confusing mess of genres, with not enough focus to make it a really satisfying read. Pick it up if you have some spare time and read quickly, but there are better books that have been published this year.