The Queen’s Poisoner by Jeff Wheeler is the first in his new fantasy series, The Kingfountain Series, introducing us to Owen and the treacherous, magical land he lives in.
From the very beginning of The Queen’s Poisoner, danger lurks around every corner. Owen Kiskaddon’s parents have been disloyal to King Severn, and his older brother, a hostage at the palace, pays for it with his life.
Sent to take his brother’s place, eight-year-old Owen is timid and very aware that there is danger everywhere around him. It may have been a result of the perspective being from an eight-year-old, but the reader was told rather than shown the danger throughout the novel. Owen – along with the reader – is warned about the importance of keeping secrets and not getting caught doing anything wrong repeatedly throughout the novel, but the reader isn’t drawn in enough to feel the fear and anxiety that Owen does.
The Queens’ Poisoner is set up to tell a mysterious, tense story, but it doesn’t deliver the emotional punches it should.
The characters of The Queen’s Poisoner are one of the redeeming points of the novel. Owen’s friend Evie is the opposite of Owen – brave, lively, and extremely talkative. Along with Mancinci, an ambitious spy, she brings entertainment and surprises to an otherwise fairly predictable novel. Another excellent character is the one who the book is named after, Ankarette, an intelligent woman who decides to help Owen avoid dying at the hands of the king. She also provides valuable insight into the conspiracies surrounding the king, as well as helping Owen – and the reader – understand the significance of the fountain, and being fountain-blessed.
The Queen’s Poisoner was based loosely on historical events, mostly around Richard III and the War of the Roses. Although it’s set in a fantasy land, the parallels between things such as place names and some events surrounding the war are very obvious at times. In some places it feels like Wheeler is lifting events out of the history book and changing the names to fit his own narrative. In some cases, when it’s subtle or well-written, this can work really well, but in this case it takes away from the bits of the story that were actually original. The magic of the Fountain, the absence of graphic violence, and the childish antics that Owen and Evie get up to in the novel allowed The Queens’ Poisoner to seem refreshingly original among other fantasy series, but obvious parallels between history and fiction took away from that.
Despite the flaws, I did enjoy reading The Queen’s Poisoner, though the writing felt choppy at times. I definitely didn’t see the ending coming, which was a good thing in an otherwise fairly predictable story. This book is on the Kindle First program, so I’d recommend it if it’s available to you that way, or if you want a break from excessive violence in fantasy novels but still want to read about magic.
Otherwise, I’d say there’s better out there.