by Rebecca McLaughlin
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 7, 2020
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
One girl must make a name for herself--or die trying --in this royal fantasy where an unknown peasant becomes the ultimate ruler. But how long can she keep the crown if everyone wants her dead? Perfect for fans of Furyborn, Red Queen, and Everless.
Everyone expected the king's daughter would inherit the throne. No one expected me.
It shouldn't even be possible. I'm Nameless, a class of citizens so disrespected, we don't even get names. Heck, dozens of us have been going missing for months and no one seems to care.
But there's no denying the tattoo emblazoned on my arm. I am queen. In a palace where the corridors are more dangerous the streets, though, how could I possibly rule? And what will become of the Nameless if I don't?
This book is a bit like its titular heroine, the Nameless Queen. I can’t say it’s exactly the book I expected from the blurb, but it’s definitely a good YA fantasy about powerlessness, feeling like you don’t belong, and creating your own found family.
“I am a misplaced puzzle piece. Worse, I’m a puzzle piece glued to the center of an otherwise beautiful painting. And the painting is on fire.
I am the thing that doesn’t make sense.”
The population of Seriden is divided into three castes: the Royals (the nobility), the Legals (working class), and the Nameless (basically homeless). The King or Queen is designated by a black crown tattoo on their shoulder, and they pass the kingdom (and their magic) to the next Royal by saying their name as they die. Sounds simple (if a ridiculous way of determining who the ruler is), but of course, everything changes the day after the king dies and Coin, a 17-year-old Nameless girl, wakes up with the crown tattoo. When a younger Nameless girl is arrested for a crime, Coin is forced to reveal herself as the queen. But no one, it seems, knows what to do with a Nameless queen, and Coin’s forced to choose between her past life and, well, no life at all.
“I swear by everything Nameless,” I say, stopping in front of him and pointing in his face, “that if you call me Highness or my lady one more spetzing time, I’m going to punch you right in your excellently bearded face.” I pause, collecting myself. “And I mean that … in a … not violent way? Yeah, I’ll work on it.”
Coin definitely had a lot of markers of my favorite sort of YA heroine. She’s prickly, but ultimately has a heart of gold. She does, unfortunately, suffer from Mary Sue syndrome, as she’s somehow able to immediately master magic and Royal etiquette near flawlessly. Even with that, though, I still liked her and enjoyed watching her try to adjust to royal life while still fighting for the Nameless. The other characters were decently done, from the scheming Royal Belrosa to Coin’s guard, Glenquartz, and I especially loved Esther, the princess and the one who was expected to be the next Queen. Her relationship with Coin was particularly well done.
My main criticism of the book is that the magic/caste system never really made sense to me. As the Queen, Coin has magic, like the ability to create illusions, but the magic only works on named people (so the Royals and Legals). Since she’s Nameless, that means she can create illusions that others see but she can’t. I never really understood why the Nameless weren’t affected by magic, despite the Charter history lesson. I do usually enjoy being thrown into a fantasy world and being left to figure out the why’s and how’s myself, but the magic system felt simultaneously too regimented and too loose to make sense to me.
“Things happen to us,” I say, “things we can’t control and things we don’t want. But we are more than what happens to us.”
So, what did I like about this book? At its heart, it’s all Coin making her own found family, with Glenquartz, the Legal guard assigned to her, with Hat, the Nameless girl she saved from execution, and Esther. It’s a bit preachy at times, yes, but the message itself was well done, and I liked watching Coin realize she could rely on other people and not worry about them hurting her back.
I also appreciated that there’s no romance in this book. While I’m a humongous romance fan (see, uh, my entire Goodreads history), I think it would’ve taken away from Coin’s journey in this book. Plus, it’s nice to see that not every YA heroine needs a romantic partner to make their story complete.
Overall, yes, this leans heavily toward wish-fulfillment and Mary Sue, it’s still an enjoyable found family fantasy, and I think it’ll hit the spot for many teen readers. Overall, I’d give this 3.5 stars, rounding up to 4.