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The Queen's Bastard
C.E. Murphy
Del Rey, 448 pages

The Queen's Bastard
C.E. Murphy
C.E. Murphy was born in 1973 in Alaska. C.E., who goes by Catie in real life, has written fantasy novels, short stories and comic books. She has also written a romance novel trilogy under the pseudonym Cate Dermody. She currently lives in Ireland.

C.E. Murphy Website
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A review by Tammy Moore

The Queen's Bastard is the first book of The Inheritor's Cycle, an epic fantasy set in an alternate sixteenth century that spans three countries and two royal courts, replete with political manoeuvring, espionage and assassination.

From the moment of her birth, Belinda Primrose has been a dangerous secret. Born the bastard daughter of Lorraine Walter, the Virgin Queen of Auron, her very existence was a threat to her mother's crown; a state secret known only to Lorraine and to Robert Drake, Belinda's father. Twenty years later, she is the Queen's most loyal assassin, killing on her spy-master father's word and in her mother's name.

In a world where her true identity must never be known and those she claims for herself must be assumed and abandoned in a moment's notice, her loyalty to her Queen is Belinda's one constant. Bone-deep. Unquestioning. Unquestioned.

Until now.

Sent to Gallin to discover whether Queen Sandalia, twice-widowed heir-presumptive to three thrones, is stirring dissent against Lorraine's rule Belinda insinuates herself into the court and into the inner circle of Sandalia's son, the charismatic Prince Javier. The companionship offered by the tight knit group -- the cunning Asselin, gentle Marius and beautiful, bitter Eliza -- is seductive to a woman who has never had the luxury of friends, but it is Javier who presents the greatest test of Belinda's loyalty to her mother. For Javier is witchbreed and he unleashes a similar power in Belinda, power her father had locked away in her childhood.

As she uses that power to aid her investigation, Belinda discovers that there is more one cabal seeking to influence the political future of her world. Sandalia and the Ecumenic princes might seek to unseat a Queen, but there is another player, a hidden one, whose ambitions clearly run higher than a Queen's throne. A player Belinda is tied to just as intimately as she is to Lorraine.

With the Gallin court becoming increasingly dangerous, Belinda must master her new abilities, keep control of her treacherous emotions and avoid discovery if she hopes to survive. For even a bastard daughter of a Queen can be hanged, and if anyone discovers her witchbreed powers, she'll burn.

The Queen's Bastard is a elegantly convoluted political fantasy, spiced with sorcery and dark sexuality. It is based in a slightly, so far, altered sixteenth century Europe and effectively evokes both the political and social atmosphere of the period. The plot is satisfying; events in Gallin are neatly wrapped up by the end of the book, with enough hints and plot threads to keep the reader on tenterhooks for the sequel. It's C.E Murphy's deft handling of her characters, however, that most impress.

It would have been easy to dislike Belinda, she just isn't a very nice person: she's a murderer and a liar who shamelessly manipulates people to her own end and leaves a trail of shattered lives behind her. The lazy way around would be to strip Belinda's opponents of any shred of virtue, make them such obvious villains her methods are justified. Good and evil, however, isn't so easily demarcated in The Queen's Bastard. Most of the people damaged by Belinda don't deserve what she does to them.

We'd hate her if she had any illusions about herself. But she doesn't. Better than any of the other characters, Belinda knows exactly who and what she is. If she had the luxury of such emotions, she might even regret it. So instead of hating her we empathise, hoping that she makes the right choices.

Most of the characters in The Queen's Bastard are similarly complex. Robert Drake made his daughter into a weapon and uses her like a knife, yet he is also proud and fond of her. Prince Javier's charm and generosity are leavened with arrogance and selfishness. Akilina Pankejeff, painted visually with the broad strokes of a schemer and a witch, is a clever, witty woman whose viciously crafted political sallies are pragmatic but not malicious. Their complexity is what makes The Queen's Bastard such a riveting read, because you are never quite sure who the characters are going to support or where their true loyalties lie. The only criticism I have, if criticism you can call it, is that I'd have really liked to see more of the secondary characters. Hopefully, I will in the next book in the series, The Pretender's Throne.

The Queen's Bastard is a deeply enjoyable and obviously meticulously researched novel. In it, C.E Murphy has created an immersive, convincing world populated with an intriguing cast of characters whose moral ambiguity only add to their appeal. I'm looking forward to The Pretender's Throne to find out what happens next.

Copyright © 2008 Tammy Moore

Tammy Moore is a speculative fiction writer based in Belfast. She writes reviews for Verbal Magazine, Crime Scene NI and Green Man Review. Her first book The Even -- written by Tammy Moore and illustrated by Stephanie Law -- is to be published by Morrigan Books September 2008.

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