Scorpica is everything I want in epic fantasy—world-building that still makes characters the focus of the story. G.R. Macallister creates entrancing characters in places I’ll never forget. She’s billed this as book one of a new series—The Five Queendoms—and I’m already counting the months (or years?) until book number two.
Scorpica is a book about women in power, in a society where that’s 100% normal. In the Five Queendoms, women handle all the vital roles. They are warriors, diplomats, scholars, healers, and magicians. Like reality, some women are more good than evil and vice versa. The women marry men, who then fulfill child-rearing and housekeeping roles. And it’s been this way for five hundred years.
However, the queendoms are in crisis. In order to continue their legacy, they need female babies to be born. Instead, there’s a “Drought of Girls,” meaning only male babies are being born. This threatens everything about the countries’ sense of peace and normalcy. Everyone is on edge, from the queens on down to the lowliest common people.
And if you happen to be a young girl in this time, you feel the pressure intensely. So naturally, Scorpica focuses on these girls and the people who protect and love them. She also delves into the characters of the queens. It’s the perfect balance between the two types of power.
I already know this is a book and series worth recommending over and over. I already enjoy Macallister’s historical fiction work, and she slides effortlessly into writing fantasy.
What I loved most was how Scorpica balanced world-building and character development. The characters are the absolute heart of the story. And the world-building is detailed enough to give your own imagination a starting place. But it never overtakes the plot or the characters.
As for the plot, it centers on several elements from large to small scale. Will the Drought finally lift? And will its destabilizing effects escalate into dramatic conflict? On the small scale, we meet and come to know the youngest girls born just before the Drought. Everyone wants them because they are the future of these nations. In a sense, they hold considerable power, despite being children. It’s an intriguing premise.
Of course, I also loved the matriarchal aspects of this book. Macallister writes as if this kind of society is completely normal and common. Thus, it’s a fresh vision of fantasy, with strong roots in the work of Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler. But I wouldn’t call it a feminist fantasy. To me, a feminist book would be about resisting established patriarchy. It would be about fighting for equality and power. Instead, Scorpica focuses on an established matriarchy threatened more from within than from outside. I love that about it.
This is a wonderful book for both fantasy lovers and those who wouldn’t normally choose a fantasy book. Come for the matriarchy and stay for the amazing characters and story.
Many thanks to NetGalley, Gallery Books / Saga Press, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review. Scorpica debuts tomorrow, Tuesday, February 22, 2022.