The Big Idea: Sarah Henning
Author Sarah Henning has returned to the Big Idea, to subvert your classic fairytale expectations and take them for a spin in the second book of her Kingdoms of Sand and Sky series, The Queen Will Betray You.
This time last year, I wrote a post about the Big Idea behind The Princess Will Save You, my gender-swapped damsel-in-distress tale inspired by The Princess Bride.
The entire point of The Princess Will Save You (besides having fun and writing a kick-ass story!) was to take that generations-old trope and turn it on its head, by not only examining what it’s like to put the male character in the role of the “damsel” and the female in the position of the “savior” but also to engage with the patriarchal ideals that support and reinforce the damsel trope.
Unfortunately, the patriarchy is pretty difficult to dismantle/kill in one fell swoop given that it’s had a whole millennia-plus of a head start. Thus, with the damsel discourse mostly resolved, the patriarchy takes center stage in this summer’s sequel to Princess, entitled The Queen Will Betray You (out July 6 from Tor Teen).
Without getting too spoiler-y, much of this book focuses on the ambitions of women—ambitions that are quite inconvenient given the hyper-patriarchal society of the continent of the Sand and Sky where our kingdoms reside. On the continent, queens technically cannot rule on their own, even if they are the blood heirs to a kingdom (like our main character, Princess Amarande). They must be married to access their power, and if they are married, all that power is deferred to the king anyway. (Insert eye-roll emoji here, obviously.)
After her father dies in Princess, Amarande first asks for these laws to be rewritten to allow her to rule on her own. When they aren’t changed because everyone with the power to change them would benefit from marrying her, she asks literally over her father’s dead body for the right to consent to whom she will marry. And instead of giving her that one little crumb, a suitor tries to force her hand into marriage by stealing away her true love, Luca.
What follows is a journey that is successful in the love department—because, yes, these are kissing books—but the resolution comes at great cost. Amarande has likely ushered war to the doorstep of her kingdom, and, thus, resigned her people to a fate they didn’t choose while simply trying to have a say in her own future. Consent was a huge theme in Princess, and yet in Queen, Amarande suddenly realizes that by attempting to activate her own consent, choice, and agency, she’s effectively put that same trio of burdens upon her people.
Obviously that wasn’t her intent. Yet if she’d had equal access to her power as the men in the Sand and Sky to begin with, if she’d simply been allowed to make her own decisions and had been trusted to just be, almost every danger brought upon her kingdom would have been avoided.
Funny how that works.
Therefore, in Queen, Amarande is still on the hunt for her own agency to marry—or not marry—as she pleases while gaining the power afforded her by her royal birth. Meanwhile, two other queens are hungry for power that is not theirs and plan to use the standing patriarchal system in their own way to access it. And if they have to burn it all down on their way to power, so be it.
The Big Idea here was to both acknowledge the fact that women desire the same power as men, and, if they show that desire, they pay for it. Dearly.
With few exceptions, to get equal power women either have to engage with the framework of the patriarchy to access it or completely remove themselves all together and come for what they want from the outside. Either way, it’s a struggle.
And women, just like men, will sometimes do anything they can to get what they want. Which is a recipe for sacrifice, deceit, and, of course, betrayal. (That word is indeed in the title for a reason.)
When men do these things—gamble, lie, cheat—as characters or even in real life, they are often lauded as clever, intelligent, savvy. When women do these things they are called wicked, nasty, a shrew. The difference that hangs between these descriptions is the scaffolding of the patriarchy. So hard to escape, impossible to change, weighted in the direction that it is.
At one point in Queen, Amarande muses that it would be easier to give a Sand and Sky crown to a bastard boy than a blood heir girl, and she’s not wrong. The why of that in her world and ours is a discussion worth having, I think, via another swashbuckling jaunt packed with sword-fighting, political intrigue, unraveling secrets, and, of course, a good helping of true love. I hope you’ll come with me.