superbly-written indie fantasy
the crimson queen
by alec hutson
Long ago the world fell into twilight, when the great empires of old consumed each other in sorcerous cataclysms. In the south the Star Towers fell, swallowed by the sea, while the black glaciers descended upon the northern holdfasts, entombing the cities of Min-Ceruth in ice and sorcery. Then from the ancient empire of Menekar the paladins of Ama came, putting every surviving sorcerer to the sword and cleansing their taint from the land for the radiant glory of their lord.
The pulse of magic slowed, fading like the heartbeat of a dying man.
But after a thousand years it has begun to quicken again.
In a small fishing village a boy with strange powers comes of age…
A young queen rises in the west, fanning the long-smoldering embers of magic into a blaze once more…
Something of great importance is stolen – or freed – from the mysterious Empire of Swords and Flowers…
And the immortals who survived the ancient cataclysms bestir themselves, casting about for why the world is suddenly changing…
This book should’ve earned more fame and praise. A familiar and utterly well-written start to an epic fantasy series with prose redolent of Brian Staveley’s writing style; I loved it.
Back in 2017-2018, when I was still a reviewer for Booknest, I was one of the judges for SPFBO 3 held by Mark Lawrence. In that year’s SPFBO, The Crimson Queen by Alec Hutson won the joint runner-up spot together with Sufficiently Advanced Magic by Andrew Rowe. My ex-blog chose this novel as their pick for the best book of the competition. Admittedly, I didn’t get assigned to reading The Crimson Queen, I didn’t know how good it was, but Celeste, one of my co-blogger from back then (and now) did read it, and she occasionally reminded me to give this book a go because she loved it very much. Two years since SPFBO 3 has ended, here I am finally getting around to reading this book, and I will say this: my ex-blog made the right choice. I would’ve personally chosen The Crimson Queen as the top book for SPFBO 3 myself if I had read it back then.
“The arrogance of writing comes not from the finished creation, but from the very act itself. What hubris is required for a single mind to believe that its thoughts should populate the world? What unbridled arrogance is it to disperse ideas like the petals of a dandelion in the wind, allowing them to float free, to germinate in the minds of others like an invasive weed?”
The Crimson Queen is the first book in The Raveling trilogy by Alec Hutson. If you’re looking for originality, The Crimson Queen may not be too suitable for what you’re looking for. Hutson uses familiar premises to tell his story that’s brimming with sword, sorceries, and intellect. For instance, the main character, Keilan, is a fisherman’s son who didn’t realize his secret talent is apparently an aptitude for sorcery. Because of this, circumstances force him to travel far out of his village and he has to undertake a quest to meet The Crimson Queen. Do note that I don’t consider tropes as flaws in my reading experience; tropes became tropes in the first place because they’re enjoyable to read, and I personally think that Hutson has utilized them to his benefit wonderfully. I also really enjoyed reading the themes of love, knowledge, and freedom embedded into the narrative.
“All that a man has in this world is his own will, the freedom to do what he desires. Taking away that is the greatest crime one can inflict upon another. Murder – it is terrible. But it is over in an instant and the dead never can truly understand what has happened to them. They are simply gone. But slavery – day after day, year after year shackled to another’s whims – it is the most heinous of crimes.”
It is worth knowing that The Crimson Queen is not a battle-heavy book. Sorceries are indeed crucial to the overall plotlines, but the story progressed in slow and steady pacing, and the battle scenes occurred only in the middle and final sections of the book. The cataclysmic history that bleeds into the untainted peace of the present timeline doesn’t mean that you’re going to read tons of sorceries being unraveled. However, this doesn’t mean that the book wasn’t engaging, the battle scenes—when they took the central stage—were beautifully written. More importantly, I found the voices given to the character’s narration and Hutson’s writing style more than made up for the lack of heavy battles in this first installment; as I always says, not every epic fantasy novels needs myriad of battles for them to be considered good, and this book is proof to that statement.
“Too often those of us with Talent rely solely on our natural gifts. True power comes from knowledge, and I find researching and writing books gives me the clarity I need to make new discoveries.”
Speaking of knowledge, what’s one of the best source to gain them? Books. It’s not often I find a fantasy novel that puts the skill to read as one of the most advantageous skills to possess throughout the narrative. Keilan is special not only because of his Talents for sorcery but also because of his capability to read. Through reading, he has the potential to access hidden revelations, and as I mentioned earlier, Hutson time and time again emphasized through the characters that the more knowledge you have the more powerful you are.
“Watching Xin progress from forming basic letter sounds–some of which, admittedly, he had already known–to stumbling through simple sentences, to reading entire pages in a book as difficult as the Bestiary had been incredibly fulfilling. He felt like he had revealed a whole new world of wonders to the Fist warrior.”
The depth and details that Hutson imbued into the multi-cultural world-building of his world amazed me. Histories are one of the most important themes in The Crimson Queen. The combination of the Western and Eastern parts of our world fused seamlessly. The behavior, the culture, and the clothing felt authentic. Also, as a Chinese, I loved the Chinese influences rooted in the world-building. There’s acupuncture, flower-infused tea, Chinese musical instruments; Hutson includes things from our real-world like mathematics and physics into the book and it’s incredible how they never felt jarring.
“It was a good reminder, actually, that the progress of man was not merely measured in the mastery of sorcery. Boat-building, architecture, mathematics, art–some called this age the Twilight, but in many disciplines it could very well be considered a dawning.”
Can you tell that I loved reading this book? And I’m saying this not just because The Crimson Queen belongs in my favorite genre to read. I loved reading Hutson’s writing; Hutson’s narrative can be a bit too descriptive at times, but there was no boring moment in this book for me because I’m always eager for the next structure of sentences Hutson crafted. The best comparison I can think of, just so you get the general idea on what kind of prose I’m talking about here, is that Hutson’s prose has a strong resemblance to Brian Staveley’s. It’s lush, lyrical, poetic, and extremely well-polished; the pacing flowed like a single undisturbed line in a calm river, and I’m following the trail with tranquility.
“…a book is the pinnacle of arrogance for it demands to be heard, but it cannot listen. It desires to communicate, yet it refuses conversation. I thought that was the extent of its profundity.”
The Crimson Queen is one out of many examples of superbly-written indie fantasy. It’s an incredibly captivating debut with an intricate world-building and a meticulously beautiful writing style. I’m so damn happy that I have the entire series to read; that means I have two more novels of Hutson’s enchanting prose for me to read. The Crimson Queen feels like classic epic fantasy written with a modern epic fantasy voice. Hutson’s debut has all the indication of a great beginning to an epic fantasy trilogy. I look forward to reading the next two books, The Silver Sorceress and The Shadow King, in the series very soon.
“But I’ve wandered this land for more years than you’ve drawn breath” – much longer, he silently added – “and I can swear to you before any god you can name that having a home where others care for you is what brings true happiness, not jewels to pin in your hair or servants to draw your bath.”
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Hi everyone, I’m Petrik! First of all, I’m one of the co-owner and reviewer at Novel Notions. Subscribe to the blog to make sure you don’t miss any new review I post! 😉
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