I really, really, really wanted to love this book. I had high hopes, going in, and the book just… didn’t deliver. (I do list positives at the end, I promise. :P)
First, the writing style was bland. There wasn’t enough description or action to balance out the dialogue, and the dialogue was bogged down by repetitive descriptions of itself. Like the spot where it’s mentioned that Gwen laughed because she was amused. Or where she said “Perhaps” and we’re told it was noncommittal. A lot of places just could have benefited from trimming things down in a lot of places and bulking them up in others.
Secondly, it needed a proofreader. The grammar wasn’t as bad as in some other books I’ve seen, but it was still lacking in areas and it could have easily been cleaned up with a pass or two by a proofreader.
I didn’t connect with the vast majority of the characters. There were about three that I was slightly less apathetic toward (Nate, Charles, and Jakob), but they just still didn’t manage to entirely grip me. Nate was my favorite, but I still thought he was kind of pushy and his feelings were overly rushed. (Such was the case, however, with most of the characters.)
Few of the characters were distinctive. Pope could only be recognized by his (overdone) stutter, Quinten by the repeated mentions that he rarely talks, and Tate by the repeated mentions that he doesn’t like Gwen. These repeated mentions make it seem like the author was aware that they weren’t really coming through on paper and decided to tell us every time they’re on the page instead of working harder to show it. (As an author myself, I understand how difficult this can be. Truly. But readers generally don’t like not being able to see a character’s identifying characteristics by themselves.) Given this issue, I could usually follow council scenes, but they lost the impact they might have had if the characters were written more strongly.
Why on earth is so much of the male population in the world of The Hidden Queen composed of creeps? Maybe I’m just sheltered/blessed and surrounded by rare guys, but it seems hard for me to believe that there would be so many guys trying to take advantage of women at every turn. And it didn’t seem to add anything to the story except romantic tension (which surely could have been achieved a different way) and revealing one character’s true identity (again, could have been done some other way). I do understand the one related to Esther’s backstory, but the rest seem excessive.
On a related note, I feel like this book tried to hit too many “tough” topics at once. The aforementioned creeps, the revelation of a character’s sexuality… neither of these added to the story. The religious conflict was good. That was one part of the book I did think was well-done, and it was an issue that added to the story. But it was sufficient on its own without the other issues thrown in.
Almost all of the character relationships felt rushed. Gwen and Charles, Gwen and Nate, Gwen and her mom (I don’t think that a mother and daughter who’ve been separated for ages would be “talking like old friends” the second time they see each other, or that a mother would give her daughter a cutesie nickname on their second meeting?), they just all felt rushed. At a slower pace, I think they all would have worked fine, but as it was they felt kind of unnatural and forced.
But on to some things I did like.
Charles. Though I wasn’t a fan of how uptight he was, I liked how protective and sweet he was, and I did kind of admire that he valued his duty so highly.
Nate. I may be biased because he has red hair and freckles, but he was my favorite character. He was kind and understanding, his faith effectively shined through in his actions, and he reminded me of a couple of my chronically ill friends of mine who are so incredibly hopeful and have rock-solid faith despite their struggles. My only problem with him, as I mentioned above, was that his interest in Gwen seemed rushed.
Jakob. Quirky, possibly-insane characters are some of my favorites in fiction, and in the beginning of the book Jakob definitely fits this bill. He was a lot of fun, and mixed with his wisdom and patience I really enjoyed him. Toward the end of the book he started to lose my interest, but I still admired his firm belief in what he taught and his patience and compassion toward Gwen.
The religious clashing. This was the one issue and the one thread in general that I thought was written and handled the best. It added to the story, it was thought-provoking, and I thought the parallels between the fictional religions and real religions were interesting. I only wish that strength had been used more as a base for the story and that the author had been able to build off of it more effectively. I think this could have been a really great, effective story if the author had played off her strengths more and sent it through a few rounds of professional editing.