Somewhere in England, in a small town called Strange Ground by the Skea, Ebbie Wren is the last librarian and he’s about to lose his job. Estranged from his parents, unable to make connections with anyone except the old homeless lady who lives near the library, Ebbie isn’t quite sure what he’s supposed to do next. His only escape from reality is his deep interest in local folklore, but reality is far stranger than Ebbie can dream.
On the other side of the sky and the sea, the Queen of House Wood Bee has been murdered. Her sister has made the first move in a long game, one which will lead her to greatness, yet risk destruction for the entire Realm. She needs the two magical stones Foresight and Hindsight for her power to be complete, but no one knows where they are. Although the sword recently stolen by Bek Rana, small time thief and not very good at it, might hold a clue to their location . . . and to stopping the chaos. But all Bek wants is to sell the sword and buy herself a better life. She’s not interested in being a hero, and neither is Ebbie.
But someone is forcing their hand and playing for the heart of the Realm. Ebbie and Bek are destined to unite. They must find a way to stop the destruction of House Wood Bee, save the Realm, and just maybe save themselves in the process. All victories come at a price. The Oldungods are rising. And they are watching…
Hello dear reader or listener and welcome to yet another gushing review, in this case for a book I’ve been describing as absolutely delightful since the moment I started it !!
The reasons are many, and some are inevitably very tied to personal taste but if you’ve been around my writing long enough and keep coming back then my guess is we share tastes. If you’re new to my brand of passion sharing, I hope you enjoy what you read here and keep coming back for more!
Also, the title is a bit of a pun – there was no way I could ever resist a wordplay, no way at all.
The Wood Bee Queen by Edward Cox is a standalone fantasy reminiscent of old folktales sprinkled with classic fantasy tropes and some Ancient Greek/Roman mythology homages (or Easter eggs if you like). It is also a portal fantasy, which I haven’t read in quite some time, and that definitely catered to some of the nostalgia from my early teens. Through it, Cox tackles timeless themes of good vs evil, blind religious faith, petty/whimsical gods, and the importance of stories, as well as making one’s own decisions without letting others sway you for their gain.
I could use phrases such as – an immersive narrative with truly evocative prose and a mesmerizing ambience that props up strong and memorable characters – which while very fitting and true, feel a little too formal for this tale.
Fact of the matter is there’s a warmth and magic that permeates this book, and that deserves more than the key words of literary criticism. Warmth in the relationships among characters, and in the fondness for others that drives the protagonists. Warmth in letting the memories of loved ones comfort and guide them through struggles. Perhaps one of my favorite things about the main characters in fact. Ebbie goes on a quest simply out of his loyalty and love for his friend, same goes for Bek albeit a little more begrudging initially. They don’t want to be heroes or anything but they don’t want to let others down once they’ve been trusted with things. Mainly Mai, whose grandmotherly/matronly presence felt truly special throughout, even when I didn’t think she would, for reasons too spoilery to delve into.
I also purposely waited to read this book until I’d come to my home near the sea because I felt like it would add to my experience of reading about a small seaside town in the summer. And I was right (pat on the back Eleni, very good choice on your part) between Cox’s simple yet effective descriptions, and the actual summer heat around me, I instantly fell into Ebbie’s shoes. It helped that he and I share character traits but I digress. He’s also in one of my favorite character dynamics too which is – sunshine cinnamon roll becomes best friends with a grouchy McStabby person. It will *never* get old.
Another great trope which kicks off this tale is the coup against the queendom from within the royal family. Indeed the villain is old school greedy evil and I absolutely loved her !! She was badass, she was cunning, she was ruthless. All that I enjoy in a villain that doesn’t send me into moral dilemmas (which I tend to love but sometimes you just want a bad guy you can’t root for, you know ? )
Cox managed to write into a single book a whole epic that could’ve spanned a trilogy, and he did so in a manner that felt no less epic, nor less deep, for being just the one book. As I said before, it had elements of old folk tales, both for their magic and dealing with folk from another realm, as well as that eerie dimension of scarier and darker things that lurk, reminiscent of the older tales. But there was also the touch of classic fantasy, with big battles, a quest, a coup, a big villain that is really just a pawn to the whims of a bored but cleverly scheming goddess. While at the same time being a simpler tale of young adults that are struggling to find their place or have lost their way and needed a nudge in the right direction.
In short, Cox found the right balance between emotional fantasy epic and light read which you can enjoy both in one fell swoop or take your time with, without feeling like you’ll miss or forget something along the way if you slow down.
His story and world was rich without being too dense – if that makes more sense – with characters that were all amazing and (most of them) instantly likable in a way that made you fond of every single one of them in a special way. Unless they’re the bad guys, in which case it was purely a case of, these are cool villains and I’m really liking how delightfully, ahem despicably, evil they all are!
I’m definitely very taken with this author’s voice and I’ll be looking into his other work very soon to read more of it. In fact it was a bit by chance that I found this book in the first place as our lovely The Broken Binding sent me an invite to an author panel thanks to another purchase I’d made with them. I’m so glad I attended and found yet another memorable author to add to my shelves!
Until next time,
Eleni A. E.
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