Monday, July 16, 2018

#BookReview - The Queen of Xana

The Queen of Xana

By: Fred Pilcher
ISBN: 978-0692988961
Reviewed by: Holly Connors
What would you say to a society where all people are treated equally, and the kingdom is ruled by a benevolent queen who wishes to help everyone feel valued and appreciated, and able to reach for their dreams?  Author Fred Pilcher has imagined such a place in his medieval “fairytale,” The Queen of Xana. 
When we first meet the future queen of Xana, Princess Agatha, she is just a few hours old. Her mother, Queen Julia, is alone in the birthing room with her newborn.  Julia’s husband, Prince Consort Marcel, died in battle five months earlier. Now Julia is charged with ruling Xana as well as seeing to the proper raising of the princess.  While in the royal chamber, the queen and her baby are visited by an old woman who we soon learn is Agatha’s fairy godmother.  She gives Agatha “…the gifts of wisdom and compassion” and promises that the child will grow to be the greatest monarch Xana has ever known.
Agatha’s childhood is spent happily exploring the kingdom of Xana.  She soon discovers an affinity toward the common people and realizes that she is able to help them improve their lives.  She intervenes when a moneylender is trying to take advantage of a saddle maker who desperately needs money.  Alberto, the saddle maker, is profoundly grateful, and is able to lift himself out of poverty with the advice he is given by Agatha.  But the princess also learns an important lesson when she tries to help another commoner who is more interested in getting a handout.
Early on in the story, Agatha is thrown into the role of ruler when her mother is killed by Magi, a ruthless sorcerer.  Fortunately, Agatha’s fairy godmother had given her the power to overcome Magi – which she does handily.  Agatha must next find her prince, who just happens to be the son of the ruler of Wan, another kingdom that Magi destroyed.  Olaf, the prince, is infatuated with Agatha, but she must pursue him (in a rather unique way), to fulfill a prophecy.  All of these events take place early in the story – the main focus, and the bulk of the tale, is made up of how Agatha ruled her kingdom.
Queen Agatha desired to help raise the commoners out of poverty.  She realized early on that one of the best ways to do that was to improve the education system.  She worked tirelessly to build better schools, add tutors for those who were in need, and find the funds to pay for all the improvements.  She willingly took advice from others and considered carefully all that was suggested.  Agatha also took on bullying as well as corruption within her own staff, and personally intervened in numerous cases.  Her people greatly respected her kind and wise decisions, but they also knew that she could be a ruthless ruler when dealing with a swindler, enemy of the state, or even a moneylender.  Agatha had no room in her beautiful kingdom for such people.
The Queen of Xana is told by a narrator who pauses the story at various points to explore the different versions of the myth.  This narrator style gives the story a sense of “this really happened” that adds a level of interest.  Interesting too were the different actions Agatha took to improve the lives of her subjects and the various people who fought those changes.  The erotic nature of the story is limited, and the frequent references to Agatha (and others) being naked in some versions of the myth added little to the story.  The writing was a bit stiff in spots, and sometimes the story seemed written for a youth audience while in other places it was geared more to an adult audience. Beyond that, however, the tale was definitely food-for-thought about what can, and should, be done to help people live their lives to the best of their abilities.  Author Fred Pilcher notes in his prologue that The Queen of Xana is a work of political allegory and that he hopes the story will help start discussions about the current state of affairs, particularly in reference to how the world’s wealth is concentrated within a small group of people – and he certainly achieved that with this book.
Quill says: The Queen of Xana is an interesting take on an “almost” utopian society.