I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book through NetGalley. I am providing this review voluntarily.
Nameless Queen by Rebecca McLaughlin is a debut YA fantasy novel being released on January 7th, 2020. I couldn’t wait to start reading, especially after seeing Goodreads list it as similar to other books I enjoyed, like Gravemaidens and Red Queen.
When the king of Seriden dies, he speaks a name and his crown tattoo is transferred to his successor. Everyone expects his daughter to inherit the throne. Instead, an unknown peasant who goes by the name Coin becomes his heir.
It shouldn’t be possible. She belongs to a class of citizens known as the Nameless, a group of people so disrespected, they don’t even get names. Dozens of Nameless have been going missing for months and no one even seems to care.
But no one can dispute the tattoo on her arm. She is queen. Living in a palace that is more dangerous than the streets, how can she possibly rule? But if she doesn’t, what will happen to the Nameless?
Seriden is a city where there is a distinct caste system that one cannot rise out of. There are Royals, Legals, and Nameless. Royals are the ruling class, obviously. The king or queen can pass the throne down to their heir, although they can speak any name they choose. The monarchy seems to shift between various families in the Royal class. Legals are families that hold various jobs in Seriden, but cannot ascend above their station. Nameless can’t hold any jobs, have no legal protection, but also live outside most of the laws, so they are forced to rely on criminal activities to survive.
Magic also exists to a minimal degree in Seriden, but is only accessible by the person who sports the crown tattoo. The tattoo confers a few magical abilities, which play a vital role in how the story plays out.
As expected with a book involving a strict class system, there are strong themes of oppression, injustice, and inequality. Nameless are overlooked, underestimated, and viewed as little more than trash. They don’t have access to housing, food, jobs, clothing, or any kind of security. When Nameless go missing, there isn’t anyone to investigate, since no one cares other than the Nameless. Royals, and to a lesser extent, Legals, have access to far more opportunities and privileges.
Coin is a street-smart and likable character, who has grown up to be a self-sufficient and resourceful woman. She knows the value of letting people underestimate her, and only shows her hand when it benefits her. Even so, she finds that old habits die hard. I particularly enjoyed her humorous nicknames for other characters, but also her ability to stay loyal to other Nameless, even as she has opportunities handed to her. She doesn’t forget where she comes from, and never loses her sense of humanity and kindness.
There were some aspects of the book that I found contradictory. One of the major issues was how Nameless can legally steal, but can also be imprisoned or executed for stealing. Another issue was one that I can’t quite discuss without giving away a huge plot point, and spoiling the story for you. I suspected something was up, but didn’t exactly see it happening as it did.
While most of the characters were delightfully well-rounded, there were a few who were a bit too one-dimensional for my liking — either all good or all bad. Much like in the real world, the majority of people have good and bad parts to them. I would have liked to see a little more depth in these characters, and see some good qualities in the villains, and maybe even a flaw or two in the good guys. Overall, the book was well-written and I did find it enjoyable.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn't an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 8
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars