Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Review: The Queen by Tiffany Reisz

Cover of The Queen by Tiffany Reisz. A woman's purple-tinted, silk-draped legs snake across the bottom of the solid black background, with the author's name and the title directly above them in white.
Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

You’ve read THE SIREN, yes? The first book in Tiffany Reisz’s Original sinners series?

If not, you’ll do best to make for your local library or bookstore and grab yourself a copy well before you approach THE QUEEN. This particular book is the eighth and final volume in the series, and you’ll experience 98% less confusion if you've already read the seven that go before it.

I know, I know. It’s a lot of homework, but it’s good homework and you’ll have a blast with it--unless you object to kinky, character-driven erotica with a strong religious component, in which case you’re probably best off reading something else.

If sexy times and religious discussion sounds awesome to you, though, you’ve gotta get your hands on this series. Let me explain the appeal of this final volume, sans spoilers for the earlier books.

THE QUEEN [Amazon | The Book Depository | Kobo] is a direct sequel to THE VIRGIN and picks up shortly after the earlier book’s finale. It employs the same structure as the rest of the four-volume White Years subseries: a present-day framing story surrounds Nora’s recollections of what occurred in the years immediately before THE SIREN. The framing story takes place at the wedding we learned about in THE VIRGIN, while the core story picks up immediately after Nora’s return to Manhattan and details how she transforms herself from a well-known submissive into the Red Queen of the Underworld.

And if that makes no sense to you whatsoever, please refer to paragraphs one through three of this review.

Okay. Let’s get down to it.

Since the bulk of THE QUEEN is a prequel, the reader can’t help but know how certain things turn out. This doesn’t impact the tension one bit. We might know that yes, this particular thing Nora worries about will (or won’t) eventually happen, but we don’t know all the whys and hows of her transition from this state to that. We don’t know what she thought about or what she felt as she grappled with each decision, and we don’t know everything she gained and sacrificed on her road to becoming the woman we met in THE SIREN.

Which is the kicker, yes? We already know and love Nora (unless we have terribly strange taste in fictional characters), and of course we’ll leap at the chance to get more insight into the events that made her who she is. That’s the thrill of any prequel, and Reisz nails the balance between what we already know and what we’ve longed to know for seven straight books.

(Or seven queer books, since damned near all the Sinners are kinky bisexuals.)

But THE QUEEN isn’t just a prequel; it’s also a series finale, and finales promise the reader a certain type of payout. Again, Reisz delivers the goods with a glorious array of call-backs and moments that focus on what the characters mean to one another. The wedding lets us see where everyone’s at in the present, while the main story reminds us how they developed these bonds. We see Nora and Griffin being buddies (and fuck buddies, because erotica). We watch her and Søren negotiate their new relationship as they consider the things that drove, and keep, them apart--and the ties that ensure they’ll always be in each other’s lives. And best of all (at least to my mind), we see Nora and Kingsley attempt to figure out exactly what they are to one another, and how they came to be this way, and how their personal and professional relationship will work going forward.

Y’all know Nora and Kingsley are tied for the position of Memory’s Favourite Sinner, so I adore anything that thrusts them together (figuratively or sexually). I always, always enjoy watching them dance around one another, clashing and connecting and supporting and pissing each other off to an outrageous extent.

A lot of what they work through in THE QUEEN involves Nora’s Domme training, making this as much a How Stuff Works book as it is a character-centric sexual romp. Nora is naturally predisposed to domination, but she’s still got plenty of skills to master if she wants to excel in her new profession. (And boy, does she ever.) I had a fabulous time with all her training sessions, and I might have teared up at the big where she finds her name.

Oh, hell. I definitely teared up at that bit. She discovers she wants to be Nora, and she starts thinking of herself as such between one sentence and the next, and it’s beautiful.

And it’s not a major thing, compared to all the rest of it, but I love how Nora considers her finances as she makes her professional choices. I get so tired of fictional characters who blaze through life without a care for their budget. Nora is far too sensible for that spendthrift shit. I love her for it, and for so much else.

Much as I enjoyed everything that passes between Nora and Kingsley, her relationship with Søren is really at the book’s heart. Reisz handles it beautifully. Anyone who’s so much as glanced at the first pages of the framing story knows what they are to one another in the present, but there’s still so much for the reader to discover. Nora and Søren talk frankly about why she left him, why she stays away, and what sorts of compromises their current (and future) relationship requires in order to remain something they can both embrace and enjoy and maintain. It’s thoughtful and moving, and I look forward to rereading THE SIREN now I know what the characters went through immediately before it began.

I’m reluctant to say much more than that, seeing as how this is the final book in the series but rest assured: it’s beyond satisfying. Reisz packs THE QUEEN full of moments sure to delight fans, and she gives us a glorious amount of closure while letting a few carefully chosen threads dangle. I’m tearing up just thinking about it, and I doubt any of you who enjoyed the first seven books will be disappointed.

And if you haven’t read the first seven books, you know what to do.

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