ONCE A QUEEN by Sarah Arthur
SERIES: Ternival #1
GENRE: Young Adult Fantasy (Christian)
RELEASE DATE: January 30, 2024
A mysterious manor house hides the keys to shocking family secrets—and rapidly fading portals to other worlds—in the richly woven opener to bestselling author Sarah Arthur’s young adult fantasy series.
“A fresh, delightful new tale for our wonder-hungry era.”—National Book Award nominee Mitali Perkins
When fourteen-year-old American Eva Joyce unexpectedly finds herself spending the summer at the mysterious manor house of the English grandmother she’s never met, she soon discovers that her family, the manor staff, and even the house itself are hiding secrets.
With odd things happening in the gardens at night, Eva embarks on a search for answers. Astonishingly, she learns that the Hall’s staff believe portals to other worlds exist—though hidden and steadily disappearing—and that Eva’s grandmother was once a queen in one of those worlds. But her grandmother’s heart is closed to the beauty and pain of the past. Now it’s up to Eva to discover what really happened—and to decide if it’s possible that her favorite childhood fairy tales are true. As she starts unraveling the dangerous secrets around the grandmother who is more than she appears, Eva begins to wonder if she, too, is more than she understood herself to be.
“What we thought was the final chapter is merely the prologue. Think of all the chapters you have yet to tell…”
I don’t normally read fantasy but I am a sucker for well-written stories and if they give off Narniaesque vibes, all the more so. So I jumped at the chance to read Once a Queen by Sarah Arthur, and I’m so glad I did! It’s deliciously reminiscent of all the best fairy tales and great classics such as The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, The Magician’s Nephew, The Enchanted Castle, and The Secret Garden while retaining a marvelous flavor all its own.
Fourteen-year-old Eva Joyce travels from Connecticut to England with her mother to meet her grandmother for the first time. She’s not sure what kind of reception they’ll get but she’s certainly not expecting the manor house to hold so many secrets. And it’s not just the people of the house who are keeping secrets but also the house itself. Stags and centaurs and dryads, oh my! And much to Eva’s surprise, much of the strange happenings seem to be tied to her grandmother – a woman of mercurial moods, great heartache, and… a regal past? I loved watching Eva and her new friend Frankie try to figure out the truth that all the adults – and the house – are carefully guarding, because I was trying to do the same. I was completely caught up in the magic of it all – the story within a story (which was so cleverly woven into the fabric of the actual story that I was convinced it was a real book and unashamedly went searching for it on Google), the search for the portal to another world, the mysterious stag, and all the other fun elements that made this a book I devoured as quickly as possible.
“Ah, my dear. That is the gift and the burden of it. The only story we’re given is our own.”
The writing and the setting are both beautiful and richly constructed, evoking that sense of wonder that all the best fairy tales do. I highlighted so many lovely quotes that are still lingering with me even though it’s been a couple of days since I finished reading the book. The exploration of grief and loss, framed from an eternal perspective cloaked by the story of Ternival where those we’ve lost are merely hidden for now (I love that perspective!), was quite touching and well-written without being saccharine or heavy-handed. The writing voice is witty (“By chasing a magical stag in my attempts to reach another world. As one does.”) and warm, drawing you quickly into the world the author has spun into existence and keeping you there until the end. An ending which leaves me eager for the next book!
Bottom Line: Once a Queen by Sarah Arthur is a wonderful start to a series I didn’t know I’d been craving. Fantasy and fairy tales combine to remind readers of such beloved characters as Aslan, the kings and queens at Cair Paravel and even Mary Lennox – while still being very much its own novel – and this enchanted tale sparks the ‘what if’ imagination of young and old alike. The story within a story – Eva’s favorite childhood series – came so alive under the author’s pen that I truly thought it was real and I was fascinated with the subplot involving the author (whom I also believed was an actual person). Wonderfully quotable sentences, a richly crafted setting, moving themes, and vivid characters make this a book that you’ll want to read quickly and then read again to savor. A story that reaches a conclusion but isn’t over just yet … I can’t wait for book two!
(I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the publisher. All views expressed are only my honest opinion.)
My Rating: 4.5 stars / loved it!
Sarah Arthur is a fun-loving speaker and the author of a dozen books for teens and adults, including the bestselling Walking with Frodo: A Devotional Journey Through The Lord of the Rings. Among other nerdy adventures, she has served as preliminary fiction judge for Christianity Today’s Book Awards, was a founding board member of the annual C. S. Lewis Festival in northern Michigan, and co-directs the Madeleine L’Engle Writing Retreats. She lives in Lansing, Michigan with her husband and tween/teen sons.
Sarah is represented by the Joy Harris Literary Agency. Once a Queen is her long-awaited debut YA novel, the first in a series from WaterBrook/Penguin Random House. You can connect with Sarah on her website.
WaterBrook is offering a print copy of Once a Queen by Sarah Arthur to one of my readers! (US only. Void where prohibited by law or logistics.) This giveaway is subject to Reading Is My SuperPower’s giveaway policies which can be found here. Enter via the Rafflecopter form below.
What about you? What makes you want to read Once a Queen by Sarah Arthur?