A terrible curse known as the Drought of Girls has inflicted the matriarchal society of the Five Queendoms for the past fifteen years. An entire generation without females has left the citizens of the queendoms fearful of the future. But with the death of the sorceress Sessadon, the drought has ended. Hope has returned but the change affects each of the queendoms differently, and not all the queens see the change as a harbinger of peace. Get caught up in the drama of Arca by G.R. Macallister.
[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by Simon & Schuster for the purpose of this review. Warning: My review of Arca contains some spoilers!]
Trouble in the Five Queendoms
Fifteen years without a single female baby born in a queendom is a long time. The Drought of Girls has left all five queendoms on very shaky ground. Even with the drought ending, internal and external threats caused by the Drought’s impact threaten to tear the five queendoms apart.
Tamura dha Mada, queen of the Scorpica, holds the queendom of Arca responsible for the Drought and was planning to invade them when the Drought suddenly ended. Even though she could cancel her plans and return home to make the next generation of warriors, the Scorpia queen invades anyway.
Her invasion tests the new queen of Arca, Eminel. Eminel is having a hard time adjusting to suddenly finding herself the queen of an entire country. An orphan from the humblest of backgrounds, she is totally unprepared for the politics of court. Luckily she makes a friend with the scribe, Beyda. Beyda helps her manage the women at court and the demands of the country, while also helping her understand the problems with her magic.
Meanwhile, the country of Paxim is having its own, primarily internal, problems. Queen Heliane is growing old and sick. All of her female children have passed away, and all that remains is a single son. But a son can never inherit the throne.
Many women have come forth to present themselves as heirs but Heliane is determined to see her son, Paulus, on the throne, so she denies them all. While Heliane is scheming to ensure that Paulus will rule after her, there are others that don’t want a king or a queen. They are working to overthrow the monarchy entirely for a fully democratic system. And these intrigues are just the beginning of all the plots, schemes, and dramas contained in Macallister’s Arca.
Arca features a parallel universe
Things in Arca are very similar to here in our own world (except for the magic, just ignore that right now) but there is one major difference, women are the dominant sex, not men. Women do all the ruling, women make all the decisions, women hold all the jobs, and women are the warriors. Men mostly seem to exist just to be pretty and breed. The women seem to actually hold the men in contempt. In other words, an exact flip of our world.
While this might seem empowering on the surface, it was actually discouraging to me. I don’t think women are better than men, I believe we are equal (note: equal does not mean same, I acknowledge differences, especially on the individual level). So while I love seeing female characters being treated as equal to men, I didn’t enjoy seeing the men being demeaned in Arca.
I believe that a matriarchal society could be run without holding men down and was disheartened to see Macallister run hers exactly like a patriarchal society. I’m sure Macallister felt like she was taking power back from the patriarchy but if you become what you’re against, you’re no better than them. And shouldn’t we strive to be better? But I digress.
Two really great relationships in Arca
There is a lot going on in Arca but there are two really great relationships that rise above the different plots. The first is the friendship between Eminel and Beyda. They have both been lonely for a long time when they find each other by accident.
Beyda is smart and unambitious enough to see Eminel as a woman first and not be overwhelmed by the queen title. Eminel is lonely and kind enough to not just dismiss Beyda as a servant. This allows the two women to become extremely close friends. Indeed, the only true friends that either one has. Watching their relationship grow and settle into a comfortable platonic friendship was very wholesome.
The second great relationship is between Ama and kingling (prince) Paulus. Ama is assigned to be Paulus’ bodyguard, to protect Paulus as Queen Heliane works to install him as king. At first, Ama is annoyed by having to constantly shadow the pampered kingling, and he is annoyed with being shadowed. But as the two begin to bond they find things to admire in each other.
Eventually, a beautiful love blooms between the two but can Ama properly protect Paulus when her sight is clouded by love? And can Paulus ever be accepted as a ruler if he marries a warrior from a different queendom? The doomed feeling of their love makes every moment of it that much sweeter.
And the story continues for The Five Queendoms series
Arca is the second book in Macallister’s The Five Queendoms series. While reading the first book, Scorpica, would no doubt enrich Arca, it isn’t actually necessary. The story was easy to follow. Anything that was referenced from the first book was explained enough to understand so I never felt lost.
Macallister is planning more books in the series and it was obvious from the way that Arca ended that more was coming. But it did have a pretty good feeling of completeness at the end anyway. A lot of storylines, if not exactly resolved, were left in a good place so that there was a feeling of satisfaction with the story. I didn’t feel annoyed like continuation stories usually make me feel. I am content with the story I got in Arca but I will be happy to pick to tale back up when the next installment comes back out.
My Rating: 8/10
Arca: A Five Queendoms Novel by G.R. Macallister is available now! Are you interested in reading the novel? Let us know on Twitter or in The Cosmic Circus Discord. And if you haven’t already, check out another book review, The Shining City!