Genre: Shifter, Adventure, Horror
A Queen's Pride is the first book in the Feline Nation series. This was another of those books I picked up purely because of the beautiful cover. Also, I love cats, especially big cats, so the lure was irresistible.
There's always a risk with that strategy, but it paid off. A Queen's Pride is an incredible read, totally devoid of the chest-beating alpha/omega shifter stories that dominate the genre, where men have all the power and women are either madonnas, mothers or whores.
No, this is the story of a young felidae (feline shifter) woman shaped by circumstances, by the trauma of kidnap and torture, by revenge, but also by the love and guidance of her parents, Bambara and Zarina Leothos, the king and queen of the Shona felidae people. It is a coming of age story, as Asha seeks to be worthy of the name her parents gave to her with their dying breath. To claim the name her parents gave her, that of Sekhmet, after the Lion Goddess, she has to face her fears, seek vengeance and secure the safety of her people's land with the Goddess's help.
It's a lot for an 18 year old to take on. The concepts within this book feel very relevant, especially in light of Black Lives Matter, climate change, and the damage humans are wreaking on the natural world, but it stops short of driving the point home with a sledgehammer. It is subtly done, yet the message is there throughout the book, but woven through the construct of a fine story, skilfully told. There are tough issues surrounding abuse, torture, grief and PTSD, but again, the author has a deft hand in dealing with them.
She has created strong female role models in Asha, her mother Zarina and Mafdet, Asha's godmother. Asha is a young heroine in every sense of the word, not afraid to make sacrifices to ensure the the safety of her people. It is bloody, harrowing, horrific in places, but through it all, Asha is a stream of light, somehow finding the inner strength she needs.
Her romance with Ekon, her lion bodyguard, is lovely; understated and not the prime focus of the book. There are some beautifully written romantic scenes, and Ekon, being a young lion, knows his place in the hierarchy. It makes for an interesting power shift and so refreshing in the shifter genre. There is also a lightness of humour as well, which was welcome in a book that had some very dark scenes.
Also, Asha's godmother, Mafdet, is another wonderful character. I wasn't sure whether to trust her at first. A cheetah shifter, and a human with vitiligo marks showing her cat identity, she is a considerable influence on Asha. Her own traumatic upbringing is hinted at, and a cliffhanger leads neatly on to her own story, Mafdet's Claws, which I've already pre-ordered (release January 2021)
With a book like this, it is too easy to include spoilers. All I'll say is the temple scene was was brilliant. I literally had goosepimples at one point. With magnificent world-building and compelling characters, I enjoyed this book from start to finish. Finally, another reviewer said the themes and the violence meant it wasn't a YA story, but I disagree. The themes in it are real and relevant. Yes, it's a fantasy, but the narrative is firmly placed in the here and now, where young people have a lot to take on to make their future world a decent place to live in. Yes, it's violent in places, but it also has young black woman fighting for what is right, solid representation throughout, and ultimately, a positive message we could all learn from. I loved it and would recommend to any young person trying to find their way in the world. Asha is a heroine we all need right now.
A Coming of Age Shapeshifter Story Lies. Murder. Vengeance. For centuries, humans descended on shifters' lands, killing and claiming. They devoured all in their path--gold, God, and glory their battle cries. From the flames of destruction on the Zafeo continent, two nations emerged--the human territory of Vumaris and the feline nation of Shona. No more wars. No more bloodshed. Eight decades of peace. For eighteen-year-old Asha, traveling to Vumaris with her parents, lion alphas of the Kingdom of Shona, should've been a simple matter. Recommitting to an eighty-year-old peace treaty between their countries should've been easier still. Yet, greed and corruption know no boundaries of time and place. So when a group of mercenaries converges on Sanctum Hotel, hellbent on kidnapping Asha and assassinating her parents, her family trip turns into the bloodiest night of her life. Will Asha lose those closest to her heart--her parents and Ekon, a young bodyguard she loves. If so, will she forgive her enemies or seek divine retribution? Only time will tell, and it's running out for Princess Asha of the Kingdom of Shona. Warning: Gun violence and torture (non-sexual)