Vaughn Roycroft's Reviews > The Fallen Queen

The Fallen Queen by Jane Kindred
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Sep 09, 12

Read from November 18 to 29, 2011

Yes, Anastasia:
I knew going in that The Fallen Queen was set in Heaven, and its characters were angels and demons, so I was taken aback by the opening. In meeting Anazakia of House Arkhangel’sk, in hearing the baroque certainty of her voice, in the descriptions of her life in the Winter Palace among her three elders sisters and sickly younger brother, I was instantly reminded of the ill-fated family of Tsar Nicholas II—and, of course, of the youngest Romanov daughter, Anastasia. Yes, this was a version of Heaven based on the final days of Imperial Russia, and I couldn’t have been more charmed. I found it an enchanting way to set the scene and create a totally unique mood for what promised to be a fantasy of truly epic proportions.

Paradise, Never Found:
In her debut novel, Jane Kindred creates a celestial realm totally unlike any I’d ever encountered, populated by both angels (or Host) and demons (or Fallen). This is not your family minister’s Heaven, and even seems not to be a destination for the departed souls of mankind. Although the inhabitants live much longer lives than the earthbound, they are far from immortal—indeed we quickly find that the Host’s supernal family not only bleeds, but dies.

To Russia With Love:
Through circumstance (which I won’t name as either fortune or fate) on the night of her family’s murders, Anazakia becomes the ward/hostage of demons Belphagor and Vasily. The Fallen pair take her in flight to, of all places, modern day Russia. Despite the prohibition against falling, a fair number of demons had settled in the world of Man over the centuries, and St. Petersburg, by far, had the most thriving population. I’ve never been, but the foreignness of Russia gave the story the perfect distance, and I was perfectly able to suspend disbelief.

While all other characters are portrayed in third person, we experience the story most intimately, and strikingly, through the first person voice of Anazakia. Her segments come in a wonderfully lush memoir format, as when she awakens from being drugged to find herself on a train with the demons. “When I tried to place my traveling companion, disquiet fluttered like a bird trapped in the dark attic of my head but could go no further. Beside me, my seatmate opened ebony eyes in which the pupils drowned. Out of the dark bog of his gaze a piece of unanchored memory floated to the surface.”
The unlikely trio soon comes to terms with the necessity of their alliance as they flee across Russia from the Seraphim—a Gestapo-like order of fiery angelic enforcers. This section of the story, from the brilliantly evocative opening to the turning point created by the trio’s sundering, progressed a bit slowly for me—although there is much to discover throughout. Anazakia learns of the earthly Romanov family and their sad fate, and we, the readers, learn that the similarities are caused by inter-dimensional echoes. We discover the depth and, what some would surely call, deviance of the preexisting relationship between the two demons. It turns out the pages Kindred devotes here are well-spent, as I was quite moved during the later payoff scenes by the weft and warp of the emotional triangle she had woven between our intrepid if peculiar triune. I was almost instantly attached to Anazakia, but as the story unfolded and the pace quickened, I found I’d grown fond of her demon cohorts as well.

Heavenly Subversion:
The story really soars once Belphagor leaves his companions hidden in a wintery Russian hinterland dacha, returning to Heaven to seek a solution to their plight. Ever the gambler, the elder demon plays his last card, right into the hands of the newly-risen false queen, Aeval—a deliciously apt name for an adept foil. Kindred keeps the pages turning from here to the concluding scenes, although I found the last action sequence limped a bit when it should have galloped.
I fear superficial description of The Fallen Queen may paint it as tritely ironic or even subversive, with its demons as saviors, angels as assassins, and its portrayal of Heaven as a metaphor for the decadence and elitism that provoked the Bolshevik revolution, but the effect of the whole was never off-putting. The book is indeed provocative, but refreshingly so. Kindred’s world feels both new and old at once; a must for those interested in angelic myth and its hierarchy. It is also sexy (at times bordering on lascivious), moving, and always entertaining.

The ending leaves no doubt that The Fallen Queen is the first of a trilogy, in that the story is far from over, with some lingering issues left blatantly unresolved. And yet I found the arc of the story and its conclusion very satisfying—something often lacking in the first and second editions of epic fantasy trilogies. I happily look forward to revisiting Kindred’s celestial creation.
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