“It was one thing to be uncomfortable in court, to hate all the pretenses and be desperate to leave. It was quite another to panic, to become so frightened of the people around me that I forgot how to breathe.”
Twenty-third in line to the throne, Freya never had any expectation of coming anywhere near the crown. Instead, she dreamed of leaving the pomp and pretense far behind for a career in the sciences on the continent, where such things are appreciated. But when most of the court is poisoned for motives unknown at the king’s birthday celebration, Freya finds that all those ahead of her in the succession are dead. For better or worse, as long as she is still breathing, she is now Queen of Epria. Thrust into a position she never wanted, she must fight to hold onto it, or be killed by rival claimants to the throne. Unsure if she was even meant to survive the massacre, Freya is besieged on all sides as she tries to find out who murdered the king, and why.
Shy and socially anxious, Freya hates all the pretense of the king’s extravagant court. Her father—a man risen to the nobility by marriage alone—encourages her to cultivate her position, but Freya dreams only of a time when she can escape the expectations of her birth, and turn her attention entirely to science and invention. Such things are not valued in the kingdom of her birth, but she knows that she can make the world a better place if she solves the problem of fireless heat. All of that is snatched away with the mass assassination, and she must turn her sharp mind instead to solving the mystery of the murders, while also trying to stay alive in a hostile court full of enemies and would-be manipulators. Unfortunately, her interest in chemistry and convenient survival also make her a prime suspect in the killings.
With the motives of the murderers unknown, Freya must be suspicious of everyone around her. The king’s illegitimate son, fallen out of favour with his mercurial father, may have been making a bid for power. Or perhaps the king’s advisor, Torsten Wolff, betrayed his best friend. The court’s priest seems to have staunchly disapproved of the king’s wild extravagance. And why was the popular noblewoman Madeleine Wolff conveniently at her country estate when the murders took place? The suspects in the murder are interesting and varied characters, with potential motives both self-interested and seemingly altruistic, adding depth to the book’s moral questions. It also ends up exploring issues of censorship and ideology, when much of the initial blame is placed on a splinter religious sect who claim to follow the teachings of a dead man whose writings have been banned for generations.
Although there is a minor romantic subplot, Freya’s most interesting relationships in the story develop with her female friends. Her best friend is Naomi, a fellow noblewoman far down the line of succession. They are very close despite the fact that Naomi tends more towards romantic novels than science, and is a little more at ease at court than her best friend. I expected Naomi to be set up in a rivalry with Madeleine, who becomes Freya’s heir and unexpected friend in the aftermath of the succession. But while Naomi’s character development maybe did suffer in comparison to the attention paid Madeleine, I was pleasantly surprised with how the relationship was handled, and how Freya came to appreciate Madeleine’s differing talents and greater finesse with court life. Rhiannon Thomas does not set the women against one another in that way, though they did contrast.
On the whole, Long May She Reign was a little more character driven than the action and mystery adventure I might have expected from the description. But I enjoyed Freya’s character development, the honest portrayal of her anxieties, and the way she had to cope with such a sudden and drastic shift in her expectations for her future. The mix of science and political intrigue really worked for me, despite the fact that the cover and marketing give this book a fantasy vibe that is only realized in the medievalesque setting.
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