Marian McHugh wrote this review.
The One-Armed Queen is the third book in Yolen’s Great Alta series. It is a book that Yolen has claimed she never intended to write, so she purposefully killed off the main characters in White Jenna. Unfortunately for Yolen, and fortunately for us, there was a nagging question: “what happens in a kingdom after the great heroes are dead?” This led Yolen to write The One-Armed Queen, the story of Jenna’s children.
The reader does not have to have read Sister Light, Sister Dark or White Jenna to read The One-Armed Queen; it is a story within itself. However, for a full understanding of life in the Dales and especially that of the Hames it is useful to have read the previous two stories, which have been collected into one volume, The Books of Great Alta .
The story begins with Jenna taking her three children, Scillia, Jem and Corrie, to visit Selden Hame, the place where she grew up. Scillia, born with only one arm, was adopted by Jenna after her mother was killed in battle, and will one day be queen. But she is an unsettled child, especially after discovering that she is not the blood child of Jenna and her husband Carum.
Jem, the eldest boy, is to be sent to the Garun, the enemy of the Dales, to be fostered in the hope of bringing peace to the two nations. However, hopes and facts are two different things. Jem wants to be king, and his life in Garun, where men are revered and women treated as little more than servants, only feeds his true self. He comes to love the pomp and ceremony of his new life and care little for the people.
Corrie is the youngest and the most sweet-tempered. He befriends Gadwess, the younger of the Garun king’s sons, who is being fostered by Jenna and Carum, and shows him a world where men and women can live in harmony.
As with the other books in the Great Alta series Yolen not only provides a story but also the history, myths, legends and songs of the people of the Dales. There are also a number of different, though interlinking, stories enmeshed within this one of the The One-Armed Queen. Of major significance is that of mother and daughter. Jenna only discovers her true daughter and Scillia her true mother when the girl runs away to discover her roots. It is during this journey that Jenna and Scillia become true mother and daughter and understand who they really are. Jenna is finally provided with the opportunity to teach her daughter woodcraft, and Scillia comes to fully understand the many stories she has heard about her mother.
The story then jumps thirteen years and we see the return of Jem, who insists on being called Prince Jemson, from the land of the Garun. He is now a man of twenty-three and very much a Garunian. He cannot abide the thought that Scillia will be queen and plots with Kras, the Gurun King whom he calls “My All-Father,” to take the throne, and this he does. The story then follows the reclaiming of the throne by the rightful heir.
This story is quite different to that of the preceding two stories. Missing especially is the magic that was ever-present in the first two stories. I also found myself missing the rites, rituals and everyday lives of the women of the hames. But then this is a different story. As rulers, Carum and Jenna have changed the lives of the people of the Dales. Children, and especially girls, are no longer left unwanted, therefore negating the need for the hames as places of refuge for unwanted children. Still, like the other Great Books of Alta this one too leaves the reader thinking about the lot that is the lives of humans.
Jane Yolen has written many, many other wonderful stories, some of which have been reviewed here at the Green Man Review. If you would like to learn more about Yolen and her works visit her Web site.
(Tor, 1998 and 2016)