Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis, 400 pp, RL 4

Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis
Review Copy from Candlewick Press

Read a sample chapter here

Queen of the Sea is a stunning work of alternative historical fiction set in a time parallel to the Elizabethan era. As Meconis, a student of history, literature, philosophy and French in college, says in her Author's Note, "I cherry-picked a few events from the real history of the British Isles in the sixteenth century, during the reigns of King Henry VII and his daughters, Queen Mary 1 and Queen Elizabeth 1." With this superb jumping off place, Meconis creates the small, hard to find island off the coast of Albion (England), home to the Elysian sisters, a convent dedicated to taking care of sailors and their families. The story of how Saint Elysia achieved her sainthood, along with other small but important details that make Meconis's world building complete, are layered throughout this richly detailed graphic novel that reads like an illuminated manuscript at times. Narrator Margaret, an orphan brought to the island as a child, tells of her life with the six sisters, three servants, sleepy, old Father Ambrose, and the animals they keep, from bees to goats and beyond. In fact, this NPR interview reveals the entertaining lengths to which Meconis went to ensure the goats were geographically and historically accurate. 

When a noble woman and her young son, banished for opposing the king, seek refuge on the island, Margaret's world expands. But so do Margaret's questions about her origins and why her parents sent her to the convent. These questions deepen when the mysterious visitor, Eleanor, and her guardian/jailer, Mother Mary Clemence arrive. Margaret begins to learn about the Queen (Eleanor's sister!) and her tyrannic rule, as well as her own personal history and those of the women who have raised her. There is palace intrigue, smart, quick thinking, unity and clever trickery that unfolds on the island, bringing about a dramatic and deeply satisfying ending. But, of course readers (ME) will want to know more. Knowing this, and speaking through Margaret, Meconis ends her story with these words (and a meaningful, wonderful illustration), 

Of course there is much more that I could tell you about what happened next to the true Queen of Albion and her companions. But for now - it is enough.

Meconis's grasp of history and her gift for bringing the fascinating, detailed minutiae of the time to the page visually and texturally are phenomenal! Every aspect, from Margaret explaining how a mostly silent convent communicates with hand gestures during a meal to her detailing the holy hours of the day that they follow, enriches and deepens the story, rather than detracting from the building suspense. I was completely lost in the world that Meconis created for Queen of the Sea, which I read cover to cover. I have barely done justice to Meconis's work here, but I hope I have done just enough to assure you that this is a book that you must read and get into the hands of the right young readers among you!

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