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The Frean Chronicles #1

Contest of Queens

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When an unsettling event occurs in the Queendom of Frea, Jacs, an inventor's apprentice from the Lower Realm, participates in the Contest of Queens to prove that a Queendom is strongest when united.

In a Queendom divided, can one girl unite the realms?

Jacs, an inventor's apprentice from the Lower Realm, has only ever dreamed of what the land among the clouds holds. That is until she finds a letter from Connor, an Upperite boy who sends a wooden boat into the abyss, hoping to learn more about the land below. Little does Jacs know, Connor is actually Prince Cornelius of the Queendom of Frea. With wooden boats and hot air balloons, the two begin a secret correspondence that lasts years. But their friendship is divided by a heavily-guarded bridge and an inescapable prejudice.

The strength of their bond was thought to transcend distance and time, but when the royal family visits Jacs' town of Bridgeport, the illusion of peace between the Realms dissolves, and the old feud is reignited.

Now, to save her people, Jacs must infiltrate the Upper Realm and earn her place to compete in the Contest of Queens. She must learn how to survive against the contests' grueling tasks and within a political web she could not have imagined. In a story about friendship, love, bravery, and defying gravity, Jacs will strive to prove that a Queendom is strongest when united.

219 pages, ebook

First published January 18, 2022

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Jordan H. Bartlett

3 books126 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 145 reviews
Profile Image for A Mac.
711 reviews82 followers
March 11, 2023
Jacs is an inventor’s apprentice from the Lower Realm, but she has a secret: she’s been writing letters to an Upperite boy named Connor ever since she found a letter from him in a little wooden boat sent down the waterfall. Over the years they become strong friends through their letters, but when an assassination occurs during the royals’ visit to Jacs’ town, tensions boil over between the two sections. As her town is put under strict rules and people are jailed for no reason, she realizes that in order to save her people, she must venture to the upper realm and take part in the Contest of Queens. If she can win, she’ll become the next ruler of their kingdom and have a chance at once again bringing peace to her land.

This was an okay YA fantasy read that did some things really well and others not so much. I loved that the author chose to swap the gender norms when it came to traditional fantasy. Queens and queendoms were the norm in this world, as were female guards and female knights. In fact, men weren’t allowed in the guard or as knights – the conversation the author included about why this was the case was fun to read as it was based on typical excuses used for why females aren’t allowed in certain positions, which highlighted the absurdity of that situation quite wittily. The characters were also decently written despite not being very complex, including the secondary characters. I enjoyed how heavily friendships were emphasized in the second half of the book, as well as the fact that the romance took years to develop.

My main complaint about this work is the worldbuilding or lack thereof. It’s disappointing to jump into a fantasy read only to find that there are zero details included about the world or the setting, especially when the work is over 400 pages long. These are two must haves for well-written fantasy as it’s what brings that unique world to life. In this case, the only bit of real worldbuilding we get is an explanation about 15% in as to why the kingdom is divided in half and why tensions exist between the two sections. It honestly made it feel like you could take this story and throw it into any well-established fantasy world and it could exist there.

Overall, this was an okay YA fantasy read that was simple and easy to read. This book ends with some things resolved and many things left open for the sequel. My thanks to NetGalley and CamCat books for allowing me to read this work. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are my own.
Profile Image for Inés  Molina.
226 reviews37 followers
August 22, 2022
I absolutely loved reading this book. Jacs is such a great character, i love her. Feminism is a big part of this book, the land is ruled by women. There are women who are knights and the Queen rules instead of a king.

The ending has left me wanting more,
Profile Image for ashmita.
154 reviews5 followers
April 30, 2022
this book deserves so much more love. 😭
Profile Image for Amanda Sanders.
588 reviews2 followers
November 30, 2021
Fantastic story but with one major flaw. This epic fairy tale involves 2 teens communicating by sending letters in creative ways between the upper and lower realms of their land. Jacs is in the lower realm and life has always been harder there. It becomes worse after tragedy strikes while the royal family is visiting. Jacs feels she must help her people by entering the contest of queens. The setting is in a queendom. The queen is the ultimate ruler. Women hold many positions of power and run the military. I like books that give women intelligence and power but I never want there to be reverse sexism. That’s going too far. This author handled it well until late in the book when two characters discussed how unrealistic it would be to allow men in the military even while acknowledging their superior strength. They compared men to oxen and said they have no intelligence. It just went too far in the reverse sexism direction for me.
Profile Image for Sanjasbestshelf.
158 reviews2 followers
December 16, 2021
I am so in love with this book!! Definitely a 5 star read! This is a wonderful feminist take on Kingdoms, or Queendoms as is more relevant in this book.

This book explores prejudiced against people, simply based on where they were born, and turns around sexist stereotypes. The underlying messages in this book are fantastic.

Jacs is from the Lower Realm. She is an inventor. She longs to know more about the lives of those in the Upper Realm, which is how her unlikely corresponds with Connor begins. Connor happens to be the Prince of the Upper Realm, and their friendship is highly unlikely and has to be kept secret.

When the Contest of Queens is held, Jacs is determined to participate, even though she is a Lowrian, and has no way to reach the Upper Realm (it’s literally in the mountains).

This is a YA book with a little romance and a lot of plot. I highly recommend it to YA lovers. I am highly anticipating book 2!
Profile Image for Sam Parrish.
Author 2 books9 followers
December 21, 2021
Absolutely adored this! It’s beautifully written and Jacs is one of the most likable characters I’ve read in a long time. She’s sharp as a tack and so genuine it’s impossible to not cheer for her as she fights for a better life for her people.
The author tackles some important social issues here, but presents them in a way that makes you feel like your reading a fairy tale or a story from legend. Sosososo good. And it looks like there will be a sequel! 😁
Profile Image for Alaina.
6,290 reviews215 followers
March 14, 2022
I have received this ARC from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Contest of Queens was a really fun fantasy book to dive into. Not exactly sure why I waited so long to read it but I'm happy that I finally did. In this, you will meet Jacs. After meeting her, I absolutely fell in love with everything about her. She was stubborn, independent, and knew her worth. Even if the world she lived in didn't see eye to eye with her.

Besides loving her character growth, I really enjoyed the world-building throughout this. It was just so easy to see what everything looked like. The other characters were enjoyable as well. Especially the Prince. He's definitely the hero we all need in our lives.

In the end, I'm so happy that I got the chance to dive into this book. Each page, chapter, and character made this hard to put down. If I could ask for anything, like anything, it would be for another book set in this world.
32 reviews2 followers
October 29, 2021
I really enjoyed this book! It evoked an atmosphere of innocent whimsy, without being too childish. This book could easily be sold as middle grade, in addition to young adult. Jacs is a lovable main character from start to finish, and Connor is well depicted as both loyal and fallible. My favorite part about this book was that the role of romance was realistically portrayed- it was present, but wasn’t Jacs’ first priority. Jordan H. Bartlett’s voice is simple, but elegant, with just the right amount of humor throughout. Overall, the book is an excellent addition to the “battle to become queen” fantasy subgenre, and a triumph of female empowerment!
Profile Image for Jodie I GeauxGetLit.
606 reviews75 followers
August 3, 2022
Holy Shit! I was not expecting to read this book in one sitting… it is 690 pages after all, but I could not make myself stop! It was everything and so much more and eek I will be singing the praises of this one for a long time.

This is going to be one of my favorites of the year and I CAN NOT WAIT until book 2 releases!
Profile Image for Midra.
48 reviews5 followers
October 10, 2022

DISCLAIMER : This review may contain some spoilers.

GENRE : YA/MG, High Fantasy

When you're on the edge,
Your next step is to fly or fall.
- the cover of ‘Contest of Queens’

Contest of Queens is an astute, ingenious and thoroughly captivating read that has an insightful take on gender inequality and incongruity that it bolsters. Written like a masterpiece, this debut novel by Jordan H. Bartlett is a riveting piece of work that tackles fundamental prejudices that all people carry, sometimes unconsciously, in a subtle way encased in a drama akin to a fairy tale that is virtually unputdownable.

WOAH! I never thought I could write something like that. (Motions to the above paragraph in bold and *pats myself on the back*) This was the first time an author reached out to me to review her book in exchange for the ecopy I received. I am a novice here, so I don’t know the proper protocols, though I have read enough reviews of ARCs, so the first line of this review (above the disclaimer) is something I thought I have to mention. Okay, so back to this book. Now that you know I have never done this type of thing, I was feeling a lot apprehensive. What if I did not like this book? What if I hated it and posted a negative review and then in future, no other authors or their publishers contact me?

So, with great trepidation, I began with this novel and then in a trice, I had reached the finish line. Just. Like. That. Finished it in a jiffy, something that speaks volumes about the writing style and the pacing of the novel. At no point in time did this book feel like a debut novel. Full of incredible world-building and engaging plotline, this novel was a personal booster after that miserable ending to a good series I just finished.

So, let me begin with a brief introduction to the setting of the novel.

The Queendom of Frea consists of two classes - the Upperites, who live above the cliffs, basically in the clouds and the Lowerites, who live down below in the value. There is little to no contact between the two groups leading to the rising prejudice between the Haves (Upperites) and Have-Nots (Lowerites).

Then an unforeseen incident occurs that completely disturbs the delicate balance between these two classes, turning everybody’s lives upside down. Thus begins the tumultuous journey of a young girl willing to risk everything in order to give her people a voice and a young man who is suddenly thrust into the unchartered world of politics.

The intricate worldbuilding not once made me feel that this was a debut novel. The information revealed is gradual and is never overwhelming. The descriptions in the book are rich and vivid and I often found myself imagining how everything would look like. I admit I am one of those people who don’t have patience for reading about the attire, and detailed architecture descriptions when the plot is calling my name. But Jordan managed to carefully balance the two and successfully managed to supply the needed details without sounding too tedious or unnecessary.

The novel starts off a little slow but picks up pace quickly. For around, the first 30% of the novel, they exchange letters, then a tragedy strikes and they lose all communication. They meet at 50% from where the actual story begins. It's best if you go into this novel blind as only then will you be able to properly savour each and every twist and turn that Jordan introduces in this book. Already, I have revealed a bit too much so, I am gonna restrain myself from divulging any more spoilers.

This novel falls into the genre of Harry Potter books. Now, those who are HP fans, don’t come at me with pitchforks saying that no book can EVER be compared to that one. I also am a big HP fan, I can understand that. I used this comparison to detail which genre the book falls into. Like there is one kiss scene but for the most part, there is nothing sexual going on in the book. It’s more about the feelings and what the MCs care for each other. To be clear, because many readers have shelved this book under YA, it is not a YA. Except for a lone kiss scene, this book does not have any sexual content, even fade to black. So this book can be easily read by middle graders.

This cannot be considered a romance. Technically, it may be but when you see how two 13-year-olds become pen-pals, they come to care about each other, feeling jealous when the other person mentions a crush, this novel comes to an end when they are 16. Personally, I think, 16-year-olds are not mature enough to have that all-encompassing love for another that can move mountains because they are still after all teens and I applaud the author for not taking that route which is often a source of annoyance to me as a reader. Not, that they don’t care about each other. They care. Deeply. But the romance did not seem like Jordan’s or the character’s priority.

Do note that there is bi representation in this book with one-two main female side characters being involved with each other. In fact, all kinds of pairings - heterosexual, lesbian and gay (though this one, I don’t think was mentioned) is encouraged.

This book is narrated in third person dual POV for the most part but at times, it shifted into omnipresent POV (OPoV) without any warning, which at first confused me because I kept wondering whether I was reading it wrong or was it really an omnipresent POV. But as the book progressed, I became used to it, and that POV became a source of information that helped me understand the actions of others, something that I would not have been privy to if it had been just Connor and Jacs narrating the story. Do note that omnipresent POV is sprinkled far less in between the dual third person POVs, like only 5% or so in the entire novel. This added to that aforementioned confusion because if one is not paying attention, those OPoVs might just slip by.

One thing that kept confusing me for a while was Jacs calling her own mother Ms Tabart. This was also a reason why I think the OPoV creeped out of nowhere onto the pages. At first, I wondered who this Tabart was, but then when I noticed her and Jacs surnames matched, I made a connection. But until then I was confused while reading that.

I have read many books where the MCs are around this age but then the authors do not let them act their age. It's like all the characters of that age group have gained maturity a lot earlier than they actually should. I would applaud Jordan for this. As I will mention later in the review, Jordan is meticulous with details and lets the characters act their age. Connor acts like a child but it is not childish. I was reading his scenes fondly. Though the beginning had me confused and a bit apprehension that reading an entire book in a 13-year-old’s narrative can be a bit exhausting. I have a brother who is 15 now, but I remember how he used to be at 13. Boundless energy with a knack for poking his nose where he shouldn’t. But the author deftly manoeuvres the story as the rest of the novel around the last 50% was from 16 year old’s POV.

Connor laughed, “I suppose, but you know, not all contestants think like you.”
“True. But they won’t all become Queen,” Jacqueline said simply.

As for Jacqueline Tabart a.k.a. Jacs, the FMC, she had to grow up early because she had lost her father when she was young and now supported her mother in taking care of the house as well as pitching in to pay the expenses. She is an intelligent teen with a sharp mind that eventually leads her to become the apprentice of the town inverter, Master Leschi. This plays a big role in shaping her thoughts and actions and enables her to reach the supposedly inaccessible Upper Realm. Using her intelligence and resourcefulness, she proved that everyone can make a difference, even those from humble backgrounds.

Now, sometimes the girl may seem like a goody-two-shoes but mind you, she is not a doormat. She knows when and how to fight the battles and when to leave them. She is also not a naive girl who undeniably trusts everyone but she is also not the one who keeps a distance from everyone after viewing everything through suspicious eyes. I mean, she gives everyone a chance to be nice but some people can’t help but give off those ‘creepy’, ‘I am the villain’ vibes which she doesn’t ignore. I absolutely loved her character.

As for the MMC, Prince Cornelius Frean a.k.a Connor, we can’t call him naive exactly but his actions seemed endearing instead of giving off simpleton vibes. After a turning point in the story, I thought Connor would become the evil guy but he didn’t. Somehow the author managed to show his frustrations and anger at the world while still retaining the core of goodness. His loyalty toward, both the kingdom, as well as his childhood friend, keep him divided but he never lets than in the way of making the right decisions.

This novel succeeded in wringing out all kinds of emotions. From a sense of achievement to jubilation and from shock to tears, this book was a rollercoaster in terms of the responses it wrested out from me. I won’t tell you specific details but let me tell you, you will thoroughly enjoy the reading process.

As for the background, set in a strictly matriarchal backdrop, this novel has a unique take on extreme female empowerment and the way it would affect every sphere of life. In the real world, where patriarchy is so enmeshed in our lives, this book is a refreshing breath and as a female myself, I found myself wondering about several things we are told not to question, as our elders are fond of saying ‘it is what it is’. (But now, times are changing and things are not as strict anymore but there are still places and walks of life where men are always given an advantage over women just because of the virtue of them being ‘men’) The same also applies to ingrained prejudice we have for different class of people who are virtually strangers to us. As Jacs, aptly points out -

“Has anyone—” her voice cracked. She cleared her throat and tried again. “Has anyone ever actually met a person—” she paused delicately “— from the Lower Realm?”
The three women looked at Jacs and then at one another. Each muttered a no.
“Why?” Amber asked, propping her chin up on her hand.
“I just find it interesting how you each have such strong opinions of people you have never met. I only wonder what their opinions of you— us— must be.”
The soft crackling of the fire followed Jacs’s words.

I have read several books that have a matriarchy setting but never as thought-provoking and unique as this one. It never felt like the author had written a book and then exchanged all the ‘men’ with ‘women’. We were given a lot of details that really make sense (I hope ya’ll understand what I am trying to get at.) and the world-building was done so proficiently that once I finished the book, I spent a few hours contemplating several things, this book boldly pointed out. Then again, not all females were perfect and not all men were shown as incompetent, the prime example being Connor himself.

This novel makes us think about what would have our world looked like if there was a total gender reversal and the patriarchal way of things was replaced by matriarchy. Though I have read many fantasy novels in which females are the ones in power, I never read a book with such a gap between the two genders. For instance, men are not even permitted to serve in the military.

Next, I am going to quote an excerpt from the Author’s Q&A that was mentioned at the end of the book. When asked about the most challenging thing she found when writing this novel, Jordan answered-

“The language. Oh nelly, I was not expecting words to fail me, but the English language, I discovered, is patriarchal in nature. So many things I didn’t expect needed to be renamed or reworded. Specifically the titles— many of the female titles we have did not carry the same power behind them. For example, in our world we have Lord and Lady, so to simply switch the power of these two would not convey the same message to the reader given the reader expectations, plus I wanted to leave it more open for same gender couples. That’s where Lord and Genteel came from. Lord is gendered female, and Genteel is the gender-neutral term for a Lord’s spouse.”

And that got me thinking. And I was left astonished that what she said is right. Whenever a ‘guard’ or a ‘knight’ is mentioned in the book, my mind automatically went to a male guard. Again, I’ll mention that I have no issues with females being guards and there ARE females in this profession but when you think ‘guard’, you automatically visualize a male. And that was, um, rather enlightening to know.

I don’t know if all the published versions of ‘Contest of Queens’ have this Author’s Q&A session but if they don’t, I would urge you to somehow grab hold of it. Oh boy, it was… enlightening, for the lack of a better word. Here is another excerpt.

What was the most challenging part about writing a matriarchal world?
A: women on average are not as strong as men, how can they still be effective and intimidating law enforcers and a realistic military? And on the flip side, what would the narrative be that would exclude men from joining the ranks? I wanted to keep it as realistic as possible. I drew a lot of inspiration from the show Avatar: the Last Airbender, from research around martial art styles like Aikido that focus on outmaneuvering the opponent (rather than being stronger), and from the novel Terrier by Tamora Pierce.

This book also explores the possibility of an omnipresent government, which is a new concept for me. Nothing is private anymore, the leaders being able to see and listen to any conversation even in the privacy of a citizen’s home. I admired how the heroine, despite all the obstacles managed to dupe the surveillance, at least when it counted.

Okay, so there were a lot of side characters, who for the most part, I was able to keep track of. I won’t say much about them because, as I said, it is better if you go into this novel blind, but they were the highlight of the novel. We got to see close friendships being borne out of circumstances while heated rivalries emerging out of others. There is one thing I would definitely mention the royalty (among the Upperites) for the most part did not consist of stuck up people who always went for those untouchable vibes even with their children. One thing I would definitely mention is that if the author had included a glossary of characters either at the beginning or at the end, it would have been a great help, especially with the Councillors. I had a hard time differentiating who held what position among them.

While a lot of things may appear as coincidences or ‘lucky’ or seem too easy at first glance, the authors took care in explaining most of them. For example , especially because I am one of those readers who try to find faults with things that happen in books and movies. I just can’t simply shut off my brain and accept things as they are. Yes, many things still remained as a bit of luck like how did the first boat reach an inventor like Jacs on the very first try? But you know, fate also plays a big part in such fantastical novels.

Now, ya’ll must be wondering, if you did read the whole review, why did I dock half a star. The main reason was that I felt that the ending was a bit too rushed, so much so that I was taken aback. Plus the way the book ended, on an epic cliffhanger, I couldn’t help but feel the need for the glossary of the councillors who play an important role. While it’s not a major issue, I still felt it.

Q: What message/ idea do you hope your readers take away from this book?
A: That in all things, be kind. I hope that this novel shows that prejudice and division of people based on where they’re born or what gender they are only makes us weaker as a whole. I hope that it makes people think about and reevaluate their own prejudices and how they impact others. I hope my book shows that at the end of the day, people are people. Give one group power and how they shape the world might look different, but there will always be those who are corrupt, and there will always be those fighting for what’s right.

As Jordan put it succinctly, this novel had a great takeaway message. I couldn’t have put it better so I am not even gonna attempt it.

All things considered, this novel narrated an excellent, engaging and fascinating tale with an undertone of innocence and levity that is a characteristic of a whimsical fairytale, resonating with the story of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, without being inordinately juvenile. The way this book deftly interlaced the themes of monarchy and democracy along with juggling important subjects of prejudice and discrimination. And after seeing the way this book ended, I just can’t wait to read the next one.

On the whole, I will give this book 4.5 “sensational” STARS.

P.S. The cover of the novel is an exquisite piece of artwork. Such covers make me want to buy a physical copy just for its aesthetic look on the bookshelf.

Also, I think I have quoted more from the Q&A session rather than from the actual story because… No reason other than I couldn’t stop myself.
Profile Image for Sarah.
7 reviews1 follower
January 4, 2022
This novel was one of the best fantasy stories I've read in years.

Jacs Tabart is a relatable lower-class girl who refuses to allow her potential to be defined by society's perceptions- a heroine worthy of a 21st century reader. Watching the character develop from a powerless victim to someone who is willing to stand up in the face of injustice felt incredibly relevant considering the state of the real world at present, and Jacs reminds us all of the power we have to make a difference.

As the story is set in a world in which gendered power dynamics are reversed, it of course had the potential to feel heavy-handed in its feminism or alienate male readers by portraying all men as incompetent. Yet Contest of Queens did not fall victim to this trap, as the author masterfully created a world in which having women in power came with its own challenges, and not all female characters were admirable. The lack of male characters didn't feel unrealistic, and the Prince was a beautifully-written and courageous hero for male readers to identify with.

I could visualise every aspect of this world, fell in love with the characters, and marvelled at the author's ability to weave a story with just enough dramatic irony to keep a reader in suspense throughout. I eagerly look forward to a sequel.
Profile Image for Susan Ballard.
1,322 reviews53 followers
August 31, 2022
4.5 🌟

I have wanted to get back to reading more young adult and fantasy. 𝐂𝐨𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐬𝐭 𝐨𝐟 𝐐𝐮𝐞𝐞𝐧𝐬 was a terrific jump back into the two genres at once!

The story is set in the Queendom of Frea, which has divided its citizens between the Upper and Lower Realms, not unlike our upper and lower classes of today.
The Queendom is ruled heavily by the females, which may sound lovely, yet there are still strong prejudices and corruption.

Jacs, an inventor’s apprentice, is from the Lower Realm and witnessed her mother's death at an early age. She has a pen-pal in the Upper Realm, who she is unaware is the Queen’s only son.

When a violent act reignites the feud between the Realms, the Contest of Queens is held. Jacs is determined to enter and help save her people.

An exciting but stern look at a Matriatrical society with two smart and charming protagonists. 𝘔𝘢𝘱𝘴, 𝘢𝘪𝘳 𝘣𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘰𝘰𝘯𝘴, 𝘭𝘦𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘴, 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘧𝘳𝘪𝘦𝘯𝘥𝘴𝘩𝘪𝘱 - you’ll want book two when you close this one.

Thank you @suzyapprovedbooktours and @jordanhbartlett for a spot on tour and a gifted copy.
August 17, 2022
I was not expecting to love this fantasy read. It’s a little outside my genre but that’s ok! I ended up really enjoying this one. I was swept off my feet feet with this 4 ⭐️ read.

It surprised me with its beautifully chiseled characters-Jacs & Connor have stolen my heart, a wonderful, captivating plot line & world building & a roller coaster ride that has me wanting more! It was a stunning adventure. I definitely want to read the next book by this superbly talented author. Two thumbs up!

* I received a complimentary copy of this book from the Author/Publisher and was under no obligation to post a review, positive or negative.*⁣
Profile Image for Nia Dragin.
Author 6 books50 followers
February 10, 2022
Originally reviewed on Cyn's Workshop

Contest of Queens creeps onto the edge of a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk. However, it is more about feminism, challenging government abuse of power, and the prejudices that come from social status.

I will admit that the story does have a slow start. It sets up the world and the different classes. First, there are the Upperites who live above the cliffs, above the clouds. They would be considered an upper-class society. Then there are the Lowrians, those who live below the cliffside. There is little contact between the two peoples, and both have formed a somewhat prejudiced opinion of one another.

But Conner, or Prince Cornelius, has always wanted to bridge the gap between the two people, sending A small boat down the cliffside river. And you should find it but Jacqueline. So in response, Jacqueline uses her imaginative thoughts to build a first-ever hot air balloon to send up her message, and I think it’s ingenious of Bartlett to give the ingenuity to the female characters.

That’s something that carries on throughout the entire narrative of the story. Women have the power here; there is the queen’s council, which comprises solely of women. Not only that, but there are no male knights or guards either. Those roles belong, again, solely to women. Contest of Queens is a queendom, but one does fully grasp that concept, the decisive role reversal until halfway through the book, which is incredibly interesting and unique.

There is also a lot of Orwellian themes in the story. When the queen is assassinated on her visit to the lower realm, Jacqueline’s hometown, the king and council take ruling their government to a whole other level. The government is punishing the entire lower domain for the actions of a few, and grief-stricken Connor fails to see how the King and the Council are abusing the lower realm. However, Jacqueline sees it as she tries to communicate to Connor but he doesn’t read her messages. He is angry, angry at everyone. The reader understands why he’s mad; he watched his mother assassinated in front of him, so Connor takes it out on Jacqueline the only way he knows how by ignoring her.

So what begins is what you would call omnipresent government surveillance. You might be familiar with this concept from George Orwell’s 1984. They insert scrying crystals into every house and have them register every member of the household. This is so they can check up on and listen to anyone at any time. It is a blatant violation of privacy and a shameful show of power. There is also the fact that to compete for the Queendom; one must be from the Upper Realm. So there is no voice for the lower realm, which forces Jacqueline to challenge both practices by sneaking up to the upper domain and competing in the contest of queens.

Final Thoughts
Contest of Queens Is a very engaging novel. Yes, probably that first quarter, as the author establishes the relationship between Jacqueline and Cornelius, it is a little slow, but it offers the reader much worldbuilding. It gives the reader a world in which to ground themselves, and you see how this story began, kind of like a Jack in the Beanstalk retelling. The feminist approach to the storytelling someone ISM is not a unique concept, but the way that Bartlett was able to bring it about was different. It was unique. I don’t think I’ve read something like that before, and I have to applaud her.

It was a creative novel. I am looking forward to the second one. All I can say is that I have to recommend it. A well-written story, Contest of Queens, does capture the readers’ attention. It has strong worldbuilding, good history, and a strong feminist approach to societal economics. I also love how it plays with being both a monarchy and a democracy, giving the Queendom some depth.

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Profile Image for Dusty.
302 reviews5 followers
January 13, 2022

Readers who pick up Contest of Queens by Jordan H. Bartlett can expect a fun fantasy adventure with engaging characters and a dynamic world. While the book is undoubtedly entertaining, there is also some education to be had as Ms. Bartlett addresses some of the issues our world faces today through the reflection of the world from her imagination. If you enjoy fantasy reads from authors like Tamora Pierce or Brandon Sanderson, then I have a feeling that you’ll like Contest of Queens.

One day while she’s out trying to catch some fish, Jacs ( a “Lowrian”, or citizen of the lower realm of Frea) comes across a small boat in the water. It contains a message from Connor, a citizen of the Upper Realms (who is secretly the prince). After she responds to him using a hot air balloon, they set up a system to send letters back and forth between the realms. Connor and Jacs subsequently spend years secretly corresponding with each other. They never actually expect to meet, but their paths are inevitably drawn together after the queen is killed, and Jacs enters the contest to decide who the next ruler of the realm of Frea will be.

It was interesting how Ms. Bartlett flipped normal gender roles on their head in the book. While the world in Contest of Queens is undoubtedly one of female empowerment, it doesn’t stray too far towards ultra feminism or misandry (A word I had to look up for the purpose of this review; essentially the opposite of “misogyny” and indicates an ingrained prejudice against men). My favorite quote from the book addresses the issue of reversed gender roles; “Only those who could create life could be trusted with the burden of extinguishing it” . I felt this was a really interesting concept to center the matriarchal society around.

Jacs and Connor are both endearing characters, and I enjoyed seeing them learn about things through the other’s eyes. This is evidenced in the quote where Jacs remarks “Through Connor’s eyes her life had taken on a shimmer, an almost glamorous sheen. He found even the most mundane of things, like milking Brindle, to be worthy of her one or two paragraphs of explanation.” You can’t help but root for both of them after reading stuff like this. In the development of their relationship, it was evident that friendship was the focus. Romance didn’t come into the picture till much later (which I appreciated given their young age at the start of the story). One of my biggest takeaways from witnessing Jacs and Connor’s friendship (as well as reading the book as a whole) was the importance of remembering that you don’t have to sacrifice kindness in the name of strength. You can be both strong and kind. In my opinion, sometimes one demonstrates strength by being kind and there were multiple instances in the book where characters did just that.

Overall, Contest of Queens is an exciting new young adult fantasy, and I’m eager to read more from this author in the future. The timeline does jump around a bit, but it’s fairly easy to follow for those who are paying attention. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy reading about fierce heroines, imaginative new worlds, and an engaging storyline. While it is aimed at the young adult audience, I think it would be equally suitable for mature middle-grade fantasy readers.

Thank you to the author, CamCat Publishing, the Team at TBR and Beyond Tours, and Edelweiss for allowing me to read a complimentary review copy of the book as part of my participation in this tour. I appreciate the opportunity immensely. Please note - I voluntarily read and reviewed Contest of Queens. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and not influenced in any way.
Profile Image for Janine.
290 reviews6 followers
February 2, 2022
I’m going to start this off by begging the author to write a second book as soon as possible because I need more!!!!

This is a 5 star read for me and I wish there were another 500 pages so that I didn’t have to stop reading! It’s an amazing fantasy novel where the women are in power and it is honestly such a trip. There are references to Lords and Masters and I kept picturing them as men, even though I knew that they were women. It’s crazy how men being in power is still so much the norm and it’s embedded in our brains. I absolutely loved that a queendom existed instead of a kingdom.

This one started a little slow for me but very quickly picked up and then I became (just a little) obsessed. I don’t even think I can say what it’s about without ruining it so just read the synopsis if you’re curious! I went into it blind and that made it more fun for me.

Jacs is an amazing main character and I wish I could’ve been like her when I was a teenager. She has so much bravery and is full of love and kindness. Not to mention her mind is brilliant. Her relationship with Connor is adorable, but it’s not the main point of the novel, which is refreshing. This book definitely focuses more on deeper topics like the feud between the Upper and Lower Realms and the prejudice that stems from it.

I can’t recommend this one enough and think you should all check it out! It’s YA fantasy and I am so skeptical about YA novels, but this one pulled through.
Profile Image for whatsalreads.
247 reviews25 followers
March 21, 2023
Book review 📚
💗genre: fantasy and YA
💗 rating 3.75 stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️✨
💗synopsis: There is an upper realm and a lower realm that are separated, on this fantasy world.Jacs befriends someone from the upper realm
And then her life turns upside down. I can’t say anymore or it would spoil the story.
💗thoughts: this was a great book! I liked the story and I really liked the characters. Jacs was a strong female protagonist who really gave her all to her goals and her friendships and I was rooting for her the whole time. Connor was really sweet as well.
The writing was well done. I listened to the audiobook which was an advanced reader copy from netgalley and I can thoroughly recommend if you like YA fantasy with loveable characters to read this one! All thoughts and feelings are my own.
Profile Image for Dana Claire.
Author 10 books338 followers
February 20, 2022
Can we talk about this colorful magical cover? I literally want a coloring book or a stain glass window of this beautiful design. Not only is the cover enchanting so is the story. The world building was unique and creative, refreshing and new, set in a society where matriarchs govern. The leader, guards, and other influential people were all women, a complete gender reversal.
The two main protagonists, from different lands, the Upper & Lower realms. They yearn to learn about each other’s home and start a secret communication. Jacs, from the Lower Realm, has only ever dreamed of what the Upper Realm holds but when she’s entered into the contest of Queens, she quickly learns about discrimination, abuse of authority, and the disparity between the two realms. Through the obstacles along the way, her spirit and tenacity keep her steadfast in her quest. Connor, the prince of Frea, soon discovers that the life he’s always known might not be everything he thought. And that his father has kept the truth from him. But he won’t give up without a fight. “If none of this matters, I can at least make sure my actions do!”
While they both come from very different places/upbringings, they both show equal interest in integrity, bravery, and a love for their land.

There is a cliffhanger….so you’ve been warned. You’ll just have to wait to find out what happens next! But I know, we haven’t seen the last of these fierce fighters and that their journey has only begun.
Note: While Contest of Queens is considered a Young Adult novel, it’s a younger set of characters with no inappropriate behavior (i.e violence, sex or cursing) and could also be for MG readers.
Profile Image for Kris.
1 review1 follower
March 19, 2023
A fun read that incorporated doing right from wrong and a competition. Well written and flowed quickly. I liked it so much I have already started the second book.
Profile Image for Alex.
17 reviews
April 13, 2022
Believe it or not, this is the first novel I’ve read featuring a Queendom! I loved when a character had joked about her little brother aspiring to be queen one day - but she didn’t want to break it to him that rulers were only meant to be women. What a role reversal!
April 10, 2022
This book has everything I want in a story: a strong female lead, a plot line that keeps you guessing at every turn, and a sprinkle of humour to poke at societal norms. I loved it and definitely recommend!
Profile Image for Brittany.
719 reviews
February 12, 2022
In a land ruled by women, resides two realms in a Queendom. The Upper Realm and the Lower Realm are separated not only by a cliff, waterfall, and bridge but by prejudice, money, and power as well. A Lowerian apprentice strikes up a secret penpal friendship with an Upperite for years. One desperate to see a world she can never reach, to see what exists above the clouds…..the other yearning for a friendship and to learn more about the realm he will one day rule over.

On a visit from the queen in the Lower Realm, Jacs witnesses the murder of their queen and the destruction of her town….as well as their way of life. Connor lost his mother and gave up his friendship with Jacs out of misguided fear and rage over her death.

The law of the land is that a Contest of Queens must be held within a certain amount of time after the passing of the week to find a new ruler. Jacs is determined to infiltrate the contest, become queen, bring justice to her people, and unite the queendom. The only problem is that she underestimated the political power struggles and the lengths others would go to corrupt the system to gain power of the land.

My thoughts:

At first I struggled to get into the story. I liked it while I was reading but something just wasn’t making it hard to stop reading or even pick it back up to start again. However that quickly changed. I liked that this book showed a world run by women. Not just that it’s run by queen and always will be, but that the knights, guards, inventors, farmers, etc etc were all women. It showed that regardless of the gender, power and money will corrupt anyone. I loved Jacs through the entire story. Connor I loved, then wanted to shake silly, and ended up cheering on all over again. The side characters were just as good. I’m curious what will happen in the next book and if Jacs will tell Connor what she learned.
Profile Image for Brenda Marie.
919 reviews22 followers
January 24, 2022
I took my time to devour this book - it absolutely sucked me in every time I picked it up.
What I loved most - women as strong characters. Women are knights, politicians, masters of their trades. The Queen rules with the help of four women Councilors; the King can be simply a figurehead - not necessarily the Queen's husband.
Jacs is lower citizen - born to a violinist father on a family farm both parents work and manage. At a young age, Jacs witnesses the tragic death of her father; this follows her throughout her life. The honesty, vulnerability just made her relatable, sympathetic character you cannot help but cheer for.
Conner - the son of the Queen and King, lives in the Upper Realm. After constructing a ship, he sets in the river to flow to the lower kingdom. Jacs stumbles upon the ship - forging a friendship that lasts years. Until the assignation of the Queen with both are teenagers.
Using her balloon design, Jacs manages to enter in the Contest of Queens - determined to win for her people to finally have a voice.
I absolutely loved this book!
Profile Image for Kat.
4 reviews
March 2, 2022
A joy to read from start to finish! I listened to the audiobook, which was fantastic. Contest of Queens is a fabulous addition to the YA genre, with strong feminist themes, relatable characters and a well developed and believable world. I grew up reading Tamora Pierce's novels about female knights and magical realms; Contest of Queens would have absolutely been in pride of place on my shelves. Can't wait for the sequel!
Profile Image for Lauren Scheibal.
134 reviews1 follower
March 3, 2023
I am so thankful that I read/listened to this book less than two weeks before the sequel comes out. THAT ENDING....

I loved the entire premise of this book - a Queendom where women ruled and standard gender roles were reversed. I loved the small moment when two female knights talked with disdain about the idea of men being guards/knights because they are so quick to anger and aren't built for that sort of work. There were small humorous parts throughout the story that kept things interesting.

I loved Jacs storyline and her growth. It feels like a lot of stories where a normal girl is stepping up to become a leader/hero, they accomplish feats that wouldn't be realistic given their lack of training or preparation. I appreciated the realistic trials and realistic ways Jacs overcame challenges.

I received a complimentary advanced copy of the audiobook and am leaving an honest and voluntary review. The narrator, Karissa Vacker, did a fantastic job. I was fully immersed in the story to the point that I tuned out my surroundings and accidently kept ignoring my husband. I can't wait to start on the Queen's Catacombs when it is released in a few weeks.
Profile Image for John Clark.
2,259 reviews25 followers
January 19, 2022
Great world, plot and characters. The ending is a bit rushed, but a second book could fix that.
Profile Image for Bryan Prosek.
Author 4 books112 followers
February 5, 2022
“Contest of Queens” is the debut novel by Jordan Bartlett. Jordan really hit the mark with this very original and imaginative young adult fantasy. Jacs, an inventor’s apprentice from the Lower Realm, has only ever dreamed of what the Upper Realm holds. That is until she finds a letter from Connor, an Upperite boy hoping to learn more about the land below. Little does Jacs know, Connor is actually Prince Cornelius of the Queendom of Frea. With wooden boats and hot air balloons, the two begin a secret correspondence. The strength of their bond was thought to transcend distance and time, but when the royal family visits the Lower Realm, the Queendom’s feud is reignited. To save her people, Jacs must infiltrate the Upper Realm and earn her place to compete in the Contest of Queens.

This book is so well written that I became totally immersed in the story. I felt like I was in Jacs shoes every step of the way. The plot twists kept me guessing and unable to put down the book. I found myself really rooting for Jacs. Her intelligence and resourcefulness, along with her big heart, make her so likeable that I was almost cheering out loud for her. The worldbuilding is so imaginative and so well done that I could picture the entire Queendom without missing a beat in the story.

While the book has a clear ending, it definitely set up a sequel, for which I am anxiously awaiting. The book has a little violence but it is very lightly described. And there is no foul language, no drug use, and no sexual scenes. If Gold Spun was a movie, it would receive a PG rating. While targeted at Young Adults, it would be fine for Middle Grade, who I think would enjoy it very much. I also highly recommend it to any adult who enjoys a good fantasy adventure and love story. I absolutely adored Contest of Queens.
Profile Image for David Morgan.
745 reviews15 followers
July 28, 2022
Delightful from beginning to end.
Jacs is a young woman from the lower realm curious to know what life is like in the upper realm. Prince Cornelius, Connor to Jacs, is just as curious about the lower realm. Conner sends a little boat he's made with a letter inside over the falls in hopes that someone from down below will find it. Jacs does and makes little hot air balloons to send letters back to Connor up above. After years of correspondence, the time comes for the Prince and his family to visit the lower realms and pass through Jacs town where something terrible happens that changes the course of their relationship.
In this wonderfully created world, The Queen holds the power in this matriarchal Queendom. Women are knights as well as the queens counselors. Men have their place, the King and Prince do help run things but when the Queen dies there's a contest to decide who the new queen will be. The contest is only open to those from the upper realm but Jacs knows to help her people from the lower realm to escape the prejudices of the Upperites she must find a way to enter the contest. From here this spellbinding story takes you on a journey you won't soon forget.

This is such a special YA novel in so many ways. The topics it covers are timeless and relevant, the writing is exquisite and the characters are loveable. I enjoyed the role reversal in a world where women rule. I cheered for Jacs and Connor and was saddened when their relationship faltered. I was under the spell of this story. Hopefully there will be a sequel as I can't wait to return to this fascinating world.

Thank you to the author, CamCat Books and Suzy Approved Book Tours for the gifted copy and including me on this tour.
Profile Image for Hanne :).
24 reviews
November 26, 2022
To put it simply, it is beautiful.
This book felt like a walk in the woods. It meandered for a while, but I actually really enjoyed it. As someone who generally seems to read books with lots of action, this was an unexpected, quiet break.

For a while, this book reminded me a lot of 'To the Other Side of the Sky' by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner but then began to deviate more the further on it went. Travelling between the high and low 'worlds', the beautiful landscapes, the romance, and the royalty were the main similarities.

There was so much I loved about Contest of Queens:
- The setting! The language used and the descriptions of the setting were simply gorgeous.
- The characters were lovely and they had brains! They didn't just do things on a whim but were pretty intelligent.
- The support and positive relationships between the side characters were amazing!
- The strong female characters and the fact that it was set in a matriarchy were pretty cool to see.
- Exploring prejudice.

There were a few small things I was iffy about or struggled with (mainly the number of names and characters but that's probably just a me issue), but overall, solid book, and I'm anticipating the second one!!

Also, the person who read the audiobook did an incredible job.
Profile Image for Nicoletta.
4 reviews
February 12, 2023
Want to read a book about a powerful queen? Looking to experience a rich fantasy world that answers the question; what if Disney's Belle inherited her father’s drive for invention and lived in a world that encouraged her to challenge herself and create?
Cue the Contest of Queens!

Jordan Bartlett’s debut novel flips tired fantasy tropes on their head by challenging gendered expectations to allow readers to immerse themselves in a matriarchal world full of adventure. The characters are dynamic and Jacqueline’s development allows her to shine as the true hero of her own novel. This is an important story in today’s world overrun by male voices, and the cliffhanger ending will have all readers begging for book 2.
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