ARC Review: Scorpica by G. R. Macallister

A centuries-long peace is shattered in a matriarchal society when a decade passes without a single girl being born in this sweeping epic fantasy that’s perfect for fans of Robin Hobb and Circe.

Five hundred years of peace between queendoms shatters when girls inexplicably stop being born. As the Drought of Girls stretches across a generation, it sets off a cascade of political and personal consequences across all five queendoms of the known world, throwing long-standing alliances into disarray as each queendom begins to turn on each other—and new threats to each nation rise from within.

Uniting the stories of women from across the queendoms, this propulsive, gripping epic fantasy follows a warrior queen who must rise from childbirth bed to fight for her life and her throne, a healer in hiding desperate to protect the secret of her daughter’s explosive power, a queen whose desperation to retain control leads her to risk using the darkest magic, a near-immortal sorcerer demigod powerful enough to remake the world for her own ends—and the generation of lastborn girls, the ones born just before the Drought, who must bear the hopes and traditions of their nations if the queendoms are to survive. 

CW: child sacrifice

This was definitely a vanity request first and foremost because I love covers with gold color palettes and this one with its intricately designed dagger was a beauty. I was also quite intrigued by this world of queendoms and immediately requested an arc. And this was such a ride.

The world building was a major draw for this book and I’m glad it didn’t disappoint on that level. We never do get to know why the women in this world are so powerful except for it being their god’s will but I loved the history of how the Great Peace came to be and the unique ways each queendom differs from each other. Their specific characteristics together make for a very coherent whole and I loved how the author managed to create them. The pacing is also pretty steady, never too fast or slow, but with its own reflective moments, covering more than a decade of the story. The writing is straightforward and easy to follow, with not too many flourishes, but I think it suited the slightly harsh circumstances of this world.

This is not a spoiler because it’s mentioned in the blurb but the idea of what will happen to a matriarchal world when girls stop being born is a fascinating premise and I was really excited to see the issues arising with this play out. I probably did want to see more of the political machinations and how the common people were dealing with the issue, but we never get to explore the societal wide implications. The author mainly focused on what it meant to one of the queendoms and how they decided to deal with it – I wasn’t completely disappointed but I just expected more.

There are a whole number of women POVs to follow along here and it was nice to get such a variety. Tamura and Mirriam are both conniving queens in their own ways – Tamura hiding all her insecurities by leaning on her warrior side, with a thirst for blood and conquest; Mirriam on the other hand who can’t trust anyone around her, paranoid to the core, all powerful magic user but all alone. Jehenit is a healer who takes her duty to her village very seriously but all that changes when she needs to protect her only daughter. Vishala is bound by her loyalty to her queen, more than to her homeland, and will do anything to protect her heir. Gretti is a reluctant strategist who is loyal to her people more than the Queen and will try her best to protect them all, but is not fond of conquest or bloodshed. Eminel is an unexpected prodigy who doesn’t realize what she is capable of. And finally Sessadon – the resentful one, who wasn’t chosen to be queen but will destroy the world to make it kneel in front of her. All these women are dynamic, their personalities shining through the pages, and I loved getting to know each of their strengths and vulnerabilities and guessing what they might do next. There is so much tension in their relationships and life altering consequences to their actions, and it was fun exploring it all.

In conclusion, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved this book and I loved savoring the book a bit slowly than I usually do. The world is fascinating, the magic is cool, the ensemble of characters is brilliant (whether I actually like them or not is a different matter) and the plot is convoluted in some ways, but thrilling in others. I liked how this first book is almost self contained with an interesting conclusion, while leaving lots of possibilities for the sequel. I’m definitely looking forward to it. 

PS: Thank you to Saga Press and Netgalley for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.

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