When I was in Florida last month, I read a number of books that had been accumulating. This included an anthology titled The Fair Folk which had only six stories, and a third of them I didn’t care for. The best of the lot was “Except the Queen” by Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder and frankly it’s one of the reasons why I kept the book.
Imagine my surprise when I was in a used bookstore this month and saw a nice hardcover with that same title. It even had the same authors. Clearly someone decided that while the tale in The Fair Folk was good, there was a great deal more story that could be told, if it was only given more space to work with. The letters between the sisters remain, but they’re no longer the main part of the book. Instead, we get to see things from Sparrow and Robin’s viewpoints as well, with occasional glimpses by others, including the Queen herself.
I still enjoy the fact that this story is not about opening our perceptions to what exists in the world we think we know, but instead that it’s about the fey sisters having to adjust to the world. They understand some things, but technology in particular is a foreign language to them. And when I say “technology”, I mean anything that a medieval society wouldn’t have. This includes the post office, which the two refer to as “eagle mail.”
My worst complaint about the book is that I have a hard time telling the sisters apart. To the point where, once they’re both employed, I can’t even remember who works where when it’s not part of the story at that time. You’d think I could remember that the sister living in Baba Yaga’s chicken-legged house works at the Co-op (or Coop, as she says it), but I can’t even do that. I know one is older than the other, but I can’t remember which.
For all that, I still found Except the Queen to be just as enjoyable a read as its short story incarnation. I think that the older version is tighter and more focused due to its shorter length (the short story was published in 2005, the novel was released in 2010) whereas the newer is able to go into far more depth and introduce more characters. Not to mention allowing us to get to know additional characters.
On the other hand, this extended version uses even more mythical creatures, as well as several I’m not especially familiar with. If I had that knowledge, I’m sure I’d get even more out of this book.
I’m not entirely certain what age group The Fair Folk was trying to attract, though I’d guess standard adult readers. Except the Queen is a distinctly young adult book. The focal point characters, Sparrow and Robin, are either teenagers or in their early twenties, and one of the themes is of their growing into adulthood and accepting who they truly are.
Yes, you can say that Serana and Meteora (the sisters) are the main characters, but the plot is driven by Sparrow and Robin. Plus the cover itself reminds me most strongly of young adult books. It’s not as…simplified…as the section would become in the next several years, but it has many of the same elements. On that note, I leave you a picture and bid you good night!