Periodically, rather than focus on a Featured Blend, I thought it might be fun to look at a popular microgenre. Not sure what I mean by that? Many people have favorite genres — the big categories that books that share characteristics can fall into. And even in a genre there are subgenres that they are more likely to read and enjoy — readily identifiable groupings under the big genre categories. A example for genre might be “Fantasy” while a subgenre of fantasy could be “Epic Fantasy.” But any readers’ advisor worth her salt knows that there are sometimes even smaller subdivisions of genre that readers are drawn to. Particular story lines that are catnip to the reader or tropes that they look for in their reading again and again.
One popular storyline for epic fantasy fans is one that I call “The Hidden Heir.” This story follows a general opening pattern that a young man or a woman who was for some reason or another passed over as the ruler of a realm is suddenly brought forward to claim the throne. The story can evolve in many ways from this premise, including a regal coming-of-age story, a rags to riches odyssey, an exploration of political intrigue, or a full-out battle for the crown. But there are people who love the idea of a character who did not think they were going to rule suddenly stepping up as the rightful heir.
This week a much buzzed debut novel, The Queen of the Tearling (already headed to movie theaters with Emma Watson to star), takes this premise and runs with it, but there are some other popular examples of the microgenre. Some of my favorites are below, but what are yours?
The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
The death of her mother prompts Kelsea to come out of hiding and claim the throne that is rightfully hers. She will have to prove herself quickly as her uncle has made an alliance with the the Red Queen of neighboring Mortmense and breaking the treaty with that sorceress ruler will bring her country to war.
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
A more touching and likeable underdog would be hard to find than the half-goblin, half-fairie Maia who never thought he would be in line for the throne. He has enemies all around him, but his father’s death has made him the new Emperor and he will need to find someone to trust.
The Falcon Throne by Karen Miller
This is another new title, actually not out until September, proving that this trope is still alive and well. The duchies of Harcia and Clemen have kept an uneasy peace, even after the Duke of Clemen’s bastard cousin Roric stages a coup and seizes the throne. Despite these violent beginings to his rule, Roric is actually one of the only decent characters in Miller’s new fantasy series, but he seems doomed from the start. It turns out the infant child of deposed Duke Harald is still alive, kept in secret at a distant inn.
Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin
There are of course several claimants to the throne in Martin’s brilliant series set in a fantasy world rife with political intrigue. But the one that fits the bill best for the hidden heir is that of Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of the historic rulers of Westeros. She has been in exile across the Narrow Sea, biding her time and gathering allies until she can take back the throne. Of course, in future volumes we might see another claimant to the Iron Throne appear…
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
The classic trilogy that comprises the Lord of the Rings series, culminating in The Return of the King, has many plotlines. One is the restoration of the rightful king of Gondor to his throne. Do I need to put spoiler warnings for a 60-year-old book? Better safe than sorry.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemison
This first volume of the Inheritance Trilogy concerns Yeine, who is summoned to the city of Sky by her grandfather the king. He unexpectedly names her his heir, but she has rivals for the throne in her two cousins and treacherous nobles all around her waiting for her to fail. She will look for allies amid the courtiers and gods that inhabit Sky in this gorgeously written debut.
Pawn of Prophecy (Belgariad, book 1) by David Eddings
True confession, I loved these books when I read them as a teen, and have grave fears about how they would hold up to an adult re-read (others I trust have warned sure disappointment). But this was probably the first hidden heir book I read and the premise of a lowly farmboy destined for great things was irresistible.