Queen and Commander by Janine Southard

Hive Queen Saga #1: Queen and Commander
Janine A. Southard
Self-published, 2013
265 pages

Reviewed by Nicky

In the words of the author herself, Queen and Commander is a sci-fi ensemble cast fiction novel. Set in the future, the story is based in a world in which members of society are designated ranks based on testing. Once designated, the males join “hives”, living under the benevolent rule of a Queen, who they have “devoted” to. The book covers the maiden voyage of the spaceship Cerridwen’s Cauldron, headed by new Queen Rhiannon with Gavin, Luciano, Victor, Alan and Gywn as her hive.

This is a very easy read, mostly owing to the fact the author largely avoided the space opera trope of over describing every boring technical detail. Additionally, the world the author has created is an intriguing one. It’s extremely hierarchical with protocol prescribed to the nth degree. Right from the beginning I was trying to figure out the intricacies. It was also refreshing to see the Welsh language – and Wales, in general – taking centre stage for once.

As for the characters, I liked that none were too perfect – though Rhiannon bordered on perfection a little too much at times – or too annoying to be believable or to make me care about them. The author was able to use challenges to bring the very different members of the hive into a cohesive group and for many there was notable character growth. The characters clearly learn from their experiences and try to integrate these lessons into the way they conduct themselves. That said, I did feel that Gwyn needed stronger character development and that Luciano’s adoration of Rhiannon could be toned down.

The main issue that brought the book down for me was that it was a bit slow paced. While the author avoided telling the reader about the name, exact shape and colour of every button pushed, the narrative nonetheless seemed a little too bogged down in minor scenes, staying in the mundane routine running of the ship a little too long. I understand that the cast is made up of young, newly graduated youths but it became tedious reading about them figuring out how to do this or that and perusing manuals. The best analogy is that it read like the first episode of a sci-fi series, albeit a very promising sci-fi series.

Due to the focus on the mundane, I felt that there wasn’t enough action early on. The majority of the conflict felt shoved in at the end. At the same time, I never really worried they wouldn’t get out of it, except for one brief moment with Gavin.

Despite its flaws, overall this is a decent read and a promising start to a series. It was certainly entertaining and intriguing enough to keep me reading and even curious about the next instalment.

Three and half paw prints out of five.

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