The May Queen by Patrick Axford is a haunting and tense fantasy adventure that had me wondering which characters were trustworthy and which were plotting the protagonist’s downfall.
The story follows Isolde, a strong and mysterious heroine who is haunted by her traumatic past. This fuels her desire to protect others; especially Sybille a young girl who inhabits the village of Sanctuary, which she finds herself in while investigating the disappearance of one of her comrades. Isolde is a young, unproven Sentinel; an order of peacekeepers who maintain order through the skillful application of force. In some cases, this is superior combat prowess. In others, it's the use of magic. This leads to one of the aspects I appreciated most about the book. The May Queen is definitely a fantasy novel, and while magic is significant in the story, it’s not front and center. Most people don’t even believe magic exists and Isolde must solve most of her problems without the use of magic. This heightens the tension in key moments because Isolde can’t just magic her problems away and must instead rely solely on her intelligence and sheer will. It’s also quite satisfying when she does use magic because it feels like she had to carefully consider the consequences of its use making it feel more realistic.
The supporting characters are all interesting in their own right and I found myself caring most for the young girl Sybille. The inhabitants of the Sanctuary, where Isolde conducts her investigation, are understandably untrusting of the outsider and some are even hostile. Isolde must wade through the subtle hostility to uncover the horrific truth that lies buried under the village. The story plays out like a mystery and by the end, we discover the chilling secrets of the seemingly insignificant village. We also learn who the true antagonist is. I think this is where the story stumbles a bit. I didn’t get a strong sense of the antagonist’s deeper motivation making them seem a bit flat. This aside, I still found the ending to be satisfying. On a technical level, I thought the novel was well written with one exception: the writing is riddled with adverbs. It didn’t pull me out of the story, but it was something I was somewhat fixated on once I started noticing it.
7.5 out of 10
The May Queen by Patrick Axford is a chilling and at times gripping fantasy adventure that plays out like a mystery. I enjoyed following protagonist Isolde through her investigation as she uncovered a latent malevolence while confronting her traumatic past. The magic system was skillfully incorporated into the story and the fantasy elements fit into the world in a way that made it seem more realistic. There was plenty of action and tension to keep me engaged and move the plot forward. While the writing could have used a bit more polish, I found the story to be engaging and the characters to be interesting overall. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys fantasy or mystery but due to the language and subject matter, I definitely advise discretion with young readers.
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