Story: Rebecca McLaughlin
What They Say
Everyone expected the king’s daughter would inherit the throne. No one expected me.
It shouldn’t be possible. I’m Nameless, a class of citizens so disrespected, we don’t even get names. 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 than the streets, though, how could I possibly rule? And what will become of the Nameless if I don’t?
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
A quote on the dust jacket touts Nameless Queen as possessing “epic world-building,” but for me, the world-building was so shaky it kept jolting me out of the story. The setting is the city of Seriden. It’s preindustrial (they’ve got muskets but no gas/electric power), ruled by a sovereign, and has a population divided into three classes. Those classes are Royals (nobility), Legals (common citizens), and Nameless.
The Nameless, as you might guess, are the city’s oppressed inhabitants. They’ve got no legal status or rights, can’t buy property, and can’t hold jobs. As result, the vast majority live on the streets and survive by stealing and other illegal activities. However, it’s really unclear why the Nameless are stuck in Seriden. They’re not like Russian serfs, who are bound to provide slave labor for taskmasters. In fact, the Seriden government seems as if it would be thrilled if all the Nameless left town. And it’s not like the environment outside the city is some inhospitable wasteland. From what I can tell, nothing is keeping the Nameless from leaving and creating their own settlement elsewhere, yet they remain in the city where they receive no benefits and endure unjust beatings and hangings.
The other problematic aspect of this social structure is that the only thing differentiating the three classes is their clothes. Not something permanent or obvious like a brand or skin color, just clothes. And the clothes aren’t uniforms but vague ranges of color. Which means it’s easy to impersonate a different class by snitching the right outfits. There’s only one surefire way to tell if someone’s Nameless, and that’s through the magic of the sovereign.
Or rather, it’s through the ineffectiveness of the sovereign’s magic.
Magic exists in Seriden, but its use is limited to the sovereign, whose powers are limited to what are essentially heightened ESPer powers–reading memories, manipulating thoughts, causing hallucinations. And those powers hold sway over Royals and Legals, but they have no effect on Nameless.
That inability to affect/manipulate the Nameless is the sole reason the group is discriminated against in the first place. But despite the emphasis on magic and how important it seems to the characters, it’s not really that critical to the city’s day-to-day functions. The sovereign doesn’t greet subjects with a daily hallucination. And even though the sovereign can tell at a glance if someone is Nameless, rank and file guards don’t have the same ability, and they are the ones maintaining city order.
Anyway, this is the world of our main character Coin. She’s a seventeen-year-old female Artful Dodger. She’s Nameless, homeless, self-reliant, and she gets the surprise of her life when, shortly after the king’s death, a magical tattoo appears on her shoulder, marking her as the heir to Seriden’s throne. Outrage ensues, and as Coin contends with death threats and endures the skepticism of the Royal Court, the plight of the Nameless hits her head on.
As far as characters go, Coin has an engaging voice, and she’s colorful and clever. The problem is she’s too clever for belief. She’s had to hone pickpocketing skills to survive, but apparently she’s so good she snitches several items despite being under guard custody AND having her hands shackled. The one time her dessert is poisoned, she instantly recognizes it as suspicious and even identifies the poison. She can knock the wind out of a professionally trained guard, and when she gets tossed into the palace dungeon, she escapes within five minutes. All this she does WITHOUT magic. So when she receives the sovereign’s magic powers on top of her own talents, it’s difficult to reconcile her superhuman abilities with the powerless mindset she carries.
Another thing difficult to reconcile is Coin’s I’m-all-alone mindset. From the start, she’s paired with Hat, a younger pickpocket with whom she’s worked for years. When Hat goes missing, Coin passes up a chance at safety to find her. When Hat ends up at the gallows, Coin risks her own neck to save her. Despite these actions, Coin is reluctant to call Hat her friend, even though mutual affection abounds between the two. Part of Coin’s character arc is a journey from lone wolf to accepting the love and support of others, but her excessively selfless actions on behalf of Hat makes that aspect of the narrative seem forced. Which is too bad because a number of scenes could have been truly touching had they been framed a more plausible context.
Nameless Queen has great voice and intriguing characters. Unfortunately, problematic elements govern the setting, and the plot twists only make the events of the story less believable. All the fuss about the unsuitability of the main character doesn’t match the stakes, and the convoluted situation gets resolved much too easily at the end.
Content Grade: C
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Crown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: January 7th, 2020