Series: The Five Queendoms, #1
Author: G. R. Macallister
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication date: February 22, 2022
Length: 448 pages
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
A centuries-long peace is shattered in a matriarchal society when a decade passes without a single girl being born in this sweeping epic fantasy that’s perfect for fans of Robin Hobb and Circe.
Five hundred years of peace between queendoms shatters when girls inexplicably stop being born. As the Drought of Girls stretches across a generation, it sets off a cascade of political and personal consequences across all five queendoms of the known world, throwing long-standing alliances into disarray as each queendom begins to turn on each other—and new threats to each nation rise from within.
Uniting the stories of women from across the queendoms, this propulsive, gripping epic fantasy follows a warrior queen who must rise from childbirth bed to fight for her life and her throne, a healer in hiding desperate to protect the secret of her daughter’s explosive power, a queen whose desperation to retain control leads her to risk using the darkest magic, a near-immortal sorcerer demigod powerful enough to remake the world for her own ends—and the generation of lastborn girls, the ones born just before the Drought, who must bear the hopes and traditions of their nations if the queendoms are to survive.
In this ambitious novel, historical fiction author Greer Macallister turns her talents to the world of fantasy, writing as G. R. Macallister. Because I’ve enjoyed her historical novels, and since I generally enjoy fantasy fiction, I thought I’d give Scorpica a try.
In Scorpica, the known world is divided into five queendoms, each with its own strengths and gifts. The land of Scorpica raises and trains warriors; Arca is known for magic; The Bastion is a stronghold for scholars and archives; Paxim is a crossroads and a center of trade and negotiation; and Sestia is a fertile land with thriving agriculture. The different lands worship different gods and goddesses and have different cultures and societal structures, but one thing they all have in common is that women rule.
The queendoms are matriarchal societies, where power belongs to women alone. From queens to warriors to any and all positions of power, all roles of importance are held by women. Men are subservient, there to support women and offer pleasure and participate in making babies, but they do not wield authority or take any role in combat.
The coexistence of the five queendoms and their continued survival are thrown into turmoil when baby girls stop being born. Known as the Drought of Girls, this lack of girl babies means there can be no future queens and no future warriors. As each of the queendoms struggles to figure out what to do if the drought doesn’t end, there’s another force at work in the shadows seeking to overthrow the queendoms entirely.
As the story progresses, we see events unfold from multiple perspectives, mainly through the Queens of Scorpica and Arca and various women of their queendoms. We get to learn the customs of the different lands, their superstitions and fears and politics, and for some of the characters, get insight into their more personal emotions and challenges.
There are a lot of characters to keep track of, and that’s not always easy. Fortunately, there’s a map of the Five Queendoms included at the front of the book, which helps a lot in terms of visualizing the basic geography and how that influences the plot. This is one of the rare occasions where a glossary of characters would have been helpful, although usually I shy away from those.
The premise of the book is quite interesting, and I liked a lot about the development of this world, how the queendoms interact, and the internal functioning of Scorpica and Arca. Where I think there’s some weakness is in the individual character development and, perhaps consequentially, in the emotional impact.
While there are some characters we spend more time with than others, this is a big book with a lot of ground and time to cover, and the individuals often get lost in the shuffle. There weren’t many that I felt I really knew well, and so I wasn’t able to develop an emotional connection with more than two or three of the characters — and even with these few, they only appear from time or time or in limited capacities.
The fantasy-world-speak is a little over the top at times:
She’d returned to Scorpica with a belly set to swell, as did so many warrior sisters, their seed watered with a man’s rain.
Okay, I’ve never heard it called rain before… Still, awkward phrasing like this (which makes me laugh despite — I’m sure — not being intended to be funny) doesn’t really detract from the generally well written world-building, descriptions, and forward motion of the major plot points.
I did enjoy the overall concepts of the book. It’s quite large in scope, and is supposedly the first in a series. I’d guess that there will be a book titled for each of the five queendoms, and that should help fill out and broaden the world quite a bit. In Scorpica, we mainly spend time with characters from Scorpica and Arca, and I imagine that there’s future action planned that will bring the other three lands into greater focus and importance.
Assuming the next book in the series comes out soon enough that I’ll still remember the details, I’d like to keep reading. Scorpica ends with a lot of loose-ends — major conflicts and problems are resolved, but there’s a sort-of cliff-hanger about what comes next, and plenty more to explore in this fantasy world.