Many urban fantasy authors have written about supernatural races coming out of the shadows and living among humans. Few have done anything like this: The supernatural races crossed the Veil to live among humans, but war broke out, and the humans won. The otherworldly beings, along with any humans found to have paranormal abilities, have been banished to an underworld of sewers and subway tunnels, while the humans rule the world above. I love this idea. Jennifer Armintrout gives the reader a setting that feels both archetypal (because the fae have often been said to live underground) and fresh (because I’ve never seen it done quite like this).
The subterranean realm is divided into two parts, the Lightworld and the Darkworld. Faeries rule the Lightworld, insulating themselves from the other races and playing their ancient games of court intrigue even in their dismal new home. In the Darkworld, many types of beings live, and chaos reigns.
Our heroine is Ayla, an assassin in the service of the decadent Queene Mabb. Mabb lives in luxury while ignoring the troubles around her. One of the most haunting images in Queene of Light is the line of petitioners waiting to see the Queene. They’ve been waiting for years. The line never moves; the Queene never sees a petitioner. Yet the desperate wait anyway, clinging to the hope that she will relent. Working for Mabb is not much of a life for Ayla, but it’s a life, and with her “tainted” half-human heritage, she has been taught to expect no better.
The story begins when Ayla encounters Malachi, a Death Angel from the Darkworld. Their meeting has disastrous metaphysical consequences, yet neither can stop thinking about the other. Meanwhile, Ayla is caught up in a plot that could topple the Queene and put Ayla in mortal danger.
This being a fantasy website, I should say that Queene of Light is structured as a paranormal romance, in terms of the way the plot unfolds. However, there is plenty here to please urban fantasy readers. There’s the aforementioned world-building, for starters, plus plenty of faerie backstabbing, and a heroine who kicks butt when it needs doing. The climactic scene — unusually for a romance — features the heroine, not the hero, facing off against the villain. And if you’re worried about a faerie smutfest, don’t be. Queene of Light reminds me far more of Marie Brennan’s Onyx Court series (despite the very different time period) than it reminds me of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Merry Gentry series. There are a few sex scenes, but they are not the focus of the story. The focus is Ayla’s and Malachi’s fight to survive, and to find a way to be together, in a world of dangers and betrayals.
I couldn’t put Queene of Light down, and I will eagerly devour the next two installments of the Lightworld/Darkworld series when they come out later this year.