Matilde, heir to the House of Svanaten, is nineteen, of age and more than ready to take her place on the throne but her regent grandmother is unwilling to hand over the reins. But it is not as simple as a desire for power. Matilde has visions of the future and her grandmother's skill at hiding this is all that keeps her granddaughter from being claimed by the church and losing her throne forever. When her long estranged aunt arrives with her young son for a festival, Matilde is delighted until a moment of prescience comes too late and she loses family, friends and throne in one horrific attack. Alone and desperate to survive and eventually regain her throne, she agrees to be bound in marriage to the man who has wiped out her family. Her new husband, though, wants more than a wife and uses magic to secure her loyalty. Matilde finds herself despised by those she cares about as she struggles to subtly undermine her conqueror.
Shadow Queen is in many ways a coming of age story. Tilde may be restlessly wanting her throne at the beginning of the novel but she is also immature and naive and her prescience is potentially dangerous to both her and her throne. When her whole world is destroyed she is forced to grow up fast and, although she makes mistakes - and there are many of them, she learns quickly that he new husband's ruthlessness must be matched by her own.
The author keeps a tight grip on a complex story of politics and psychological manipulation that reveals itself slowly as Tilde learns more about herself, her family and her kingdom and its enemies. The characters are well-drawn with a blend of strengths and weaknesses and, often, surprising sides to them. As it should be, no-one is perfect in this world where betrayal is commonplace.
Shadow Queen is gritty fantasy set in a realistic quasi mediaeval world and should appeal to those who enjoy novels by Jennifer Fallon and Glenda Larke. There are no elves, fairies or vampires but there is magic - and it's powerful and dangerous.
Shadow Bound, the sequel to Shadow Queen, was published in 2010 and, although the author says she has no plans for a further book in the series, she has left it enticingly open. I intend to post a review of Shadow Bound soon.
Correction: I said incorrectly that Shadow Queen was no longer in print and only available as an e-book on Amazon.com. Deborah Kalin has informed me in the comments section that Shadow Queen is still available in A4 paperback through the Allen & Unwin website online bookshop if your local bookshop doesn't have it in stock.