First off I would like to thank the author, the publisher, and NetGalley for giving me the chance to read and review this ARC. While the copy was provided for free, all opinions are honest and my own.
The Dead Queens Club is a modern high school retelling of Henry VIII and his wives. It’s got drama, romance, and strong female friendships, narrated by Annie “Cleves” Marck, Henry’s fourth girlfriend. She’s the only one that’s managed to survive dating Henry so far, and she’s starting to wonder why…
The first quarter of 2019 seemed to be ripe for a lot of Henry VIII retellings, and this novel was one of a few that caught my eye. I’ve been especially into murder mystery novels lately, trying to find more YA ones as the genre keeps growing, so this book was an instant add to my tbr. When I was accepted to review it before release, I was even more excited, and couldn’t wait to get started.
While in the end, I didn’t rate The Dead Queens Club all that highly, I did thoroughly enjoy the first half of the book. Cleves was a narrator that truly stuck out, whether it be due to her characterization as well as the how the story itself was written, and I found myself speeding through the first half of the book. The insane amount of drama the book involves was also hilarious to read, and while some of it was a bit ridiculous, I can definitely see some of the people I was in high school with acting this exact way. Additionally, even though the book dealt with a decent amount of death for your average high school story, it still managed to be pretty lighthearted and funny, for the most part. Unfortunately, that latter trait had consequences later on.
I wish I could say I liked where the story ended up going and went into the ending with the same zeal I had started with, but I can’t. Somewhere along the line the book just lost me, and I blame that on a few reasons.
1. The book keeps switching who Cleves/we are supposed to trust. While this is common in mystery novels, the sheer amount and speed at which we are thrown back and forth between characters made me feel like a ping pong ball. I’ve never had a book give me quite this much whiplash, and honestly, I really hope I never do again.
2. We are given way too many different stories on what happened “that night.” I felt like I should’ve been taking notes on all these stories since the beginning since by the time everything started going down, so many different tales with so many different intricacies had been spelled out that I couldn’t even keep them straight anymore. I normally still think for myself as I’m reading, not necessarily taking everything the main character thinks as the truth, but in this case, I just had to trust Cleves because I couldn’t even remember everything anymore.
3. The writing style ends up adding to the confusion. I mentioned the writing style above, and while I did like it then, it’s lack of directness and it’s wishy-washy way of spelling things out just added to the confusion the first two points gave me. I had to reread a few parts to get what was really going on, and even then I’m still not sure if I interpreted the scene properly. While I almost always love unique writing styles, this one just ended up hurting the ending even more.
4. At some point, Cleves stops being suspicious of others. There were tons of moments later on where Cleves just kept on believing what her friends said, even after being shown multiple times that they’ve very frequently not been entirely honest with her. Normally this isn’t so annoying, but if I’m relying on Cleves as much as I mentioned above, and suddenly I feel I can’t trust her, I feel even more lost in the book.
5. In the end, I wasn’t able to actually like anyone. Now I get the point of the book wasn’t to make people likable, but the way this book went made it hard to actually enjoy and go along with some of the scenes and events in the final 20% of the book. I was at the point where I literally didn’t like nor trust anyone, but I had to go along with how it ended up being tied up anyways. I just wasn’t into it anymore.
I’m sure there are more little things that started bugging me the further along I got in the story, but these are the main issues that switched me from loving the book to just being annoyed by it. I feel like it has a lot of potential, and some of these issues may have been fixed enough for the final copy, so I do recommend just trying it. And I’ll definitely see what other books this author will release! However, The Dead Queens Club just wasn’t for me.