cover image Of Kings, Queens and Colonies

Of Kings, Queens and Colonies

Johnny Worthen. Flame Tree, $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-78758-598-0

A religious inquisition plays out across a richly imagined albeit somewhat unrealistic system of colonized planets in this odd blend of space opera and 16th-century historical fiction from Worthen (What Immortal Hand). Multiple protagonists carry the narrative from the cramped conditions aboard a colony ship headed for isolated Tirgwenin to the war brewing between rebellious Queen Zabel of Enskari, who’s broken from the church and altered misogynist religious doctrine in order to rule, and violent Prince Brandon of Hyrax, who’s backed by the religious leaders on Temple. Worthen blends the clever scientific concept of atmospheric crystals, which protect the worlds of the Coronam system from that star’s fierce electromagnetic storms, with the fantastical improbability of 10 planets sharing orbital distance. This is still less jarring than the Renaissance-flavored worldbuilding, incorporating a rigid class system, formal speech pattern, and institutionalized slavery. A distinct lack of characters worth rooting for makes for a trying experience through the first half, with accounts of horrific brutality as Admiral Hasin subjugates Tirgwenin’s people in an attempt to colonize the planet. Readers who persist through Worthen’s vivid, unshrinking depictions of zealotry and bigotry will be rewarded by the hopeful culmination of the intrigue and a nail-biting final battle. It’s not wholly successful, but Worthen gets points for originality. (Nov.)