Scorpica, the first book in G.R. Macallister’s The Five Queendoms series is billed as a feminist Game of Thrones, which is somewhat misleading. Not every epic fantasy with Grimdark elements is like Martin’s work! But that’s one of my pet peeves. It’s more like Tasha Suri meets Joe Abercrombie if I had to give some comps, although this was one that felt like it didn’t quite manage to hit the expectations set out by its scope.
Many thanks to Sarah Mather at Titan Books for sending me an ARC for review, all opinions are my own as usual.
RELEASE DATE: 22/02/2022
STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
SUMMARY: In an ancient matriarchal world of magic, gods and warriors, the last girl – unbeknownst to the five queendoms – has just been born. As time marches on, the scribes of Bastian find no answers in their history books. The farmers of Sestia sacrifice their crops to the gods. Paxim, the empire of trade and dealings, has nothing to barter but boys and more boys. Arcan magic has no spells to remedy the Drought of Girls. And finally, Scorpica, where every woman is a fighter, their commander, their queen, has no more warriors to train. The lines of these once-great empires soon to die.
After centuries of peace, the ensuing struggle for dominance – and heirs – will bring the five queendoms to the eve of all-out war.
But the mysterious curse is linked to one of the last-born children, an orphaned all-magic girl, who is unaware she has a claim to the Arcan throne… (from Titan)
OPINIONS: This is one of those books where I’m not sure what to think about it. I think the copy comparing it to Game of Thrones is very ill-fitting, as it feels more like a love child of Joe Abercrombie and Tasha Suri – political fantasy focusing on a grand scope, in a South Asian/Arab inspired world, with some Grimdark elements, but nowhere near the George R.R. Martin-like scope of close PoVs that switch quickly. The narration is really much further removed – which may be part of what made me struggle with the story as I tend to focus on the emotional connection I have with what is going on more than anything else. I have noticed that I tend to be far more forgiving of a story that connects with me, while one that doesn’t makes me be critical of every last detail as it doesn’t absorb me while reading – and one of the things that I’ve found makes a difference in how well I connect is how far removed the narration is from the characters. So wide shots of scenes make me care far less than lots of close-ups that let the reader piece together the grand picture over time.
That said, I am intrigued enough that I will be picking up the next volume in the series when it is ready – I feel like this, while it is rather large, is just enough to whet the reader’s appetites. It doesn’t feel like a story that stands on its own – not a satisfying one at least – very much like part of an ongoing series, so for me, how it goes on will make or break it as a whole. Scorpica is fun to read, and of an epic scope – and I am curious to see how the questions posed in this first book will pan out.
I do wish that Scorpica focused a bit more on individual characters rather than sweeping political happenings, as I did feel that I didn’t get to know the characters as well as I would have liked to. This is a series that will appeal to those readers who enjoy the epic scale over the personal stakes at work, and an almost cinematic approach to storytelling. It is the sort of story that is predestined for adaptation, with a rich world, visual contrasts and the style of writing. So even if it didn’t fully convince me, it is definitely the start of a series to watch out for, and one that will likely make many readers fall in love with it.