An aristocrat’s daughter becomes queen in this insightful if somewhat bland fantasy from debut author Cunningham.
In her youth, beautiful Agatha received instruction on governing from her mother, Queen Julia, who relied on aristocrats for advice. Agatha enjoyed an idyllic life, developing character and empathy in a land known as Xana (the exact place/time isn’t specified, although reference is made to “faraway England” and the Magna Carta). When Agatha turned 20, evil sorcerer Magi killed Queen Julia and cast wicked spells on everyone but Agatha. Magi also destroyed the land of Wan, home of sole survivor Prince Olaf. But Agatha was protected by her fairy godmother, who advised her to make love solely to Olaf to ensure Magi’s spells wouldn’t last through eternity. Unable to mate with Agatha, lustful Magi was incinerated once Olaf and Agatha made love. Agatha became a fair and just queen, crowned by 3-year-old Anya Mendez, a commoner who plays a significant role later in the story. Loved by all, Agatha ensured that everyone was fed, the children schooled and the sick properly treated. She walked among her people, buoying morale. In this erotic fantasy, Olaf is portrayed as a faithful, gifted lover, and Agatha has a “voracious sexual appetite.” Toward book’s end, Agatha, who favors premarital relations, issues a decree defining the “best sex.” Though no plaster saint, Queen Agatha’s embodiment of near perfection in her person and dealings is commendable yet not that enthralling. Nevertheless, the story unfolds clearly and coherently, offering valuable instruction on running a healthy government (corruption, usury and bullying are addressed) that produces a surplus without impoverishing or disempowering its citizenry. Much is accomplished with relatively little violence, although there is a beheading and an attack by a foreign nation. Although Agatha remains childless, readers learn in a moving passage that the people of Xana are all the queen’s children, far more than she could birth in a lifetime.
Astute lessons in government enliven this less than compelling tale of a wise, disciplined queen known for her beneficence.