Featuring an entirely diverse cast, Amalie Howard’s Queen Bee is a self-professed anti-historical YA novel. Blending the style, inclusivity and Regency drama of the Bridgerton/Queen Charlotte reimagingings, with a Count of Monte Cristo-esque tale of love, betrayal and revenge, it follows a disgraced teen girl who seeks retribution after she’s betrayed by her best friend and cast out of the ton.
Lady Ela Dalvi’s life was on a glittering trajectory until one devastating summer day in June, 1814, when her vicious, resentful best friend Poppy ruined her life. Envious of Ela’s title and jealous over her friendship with new boy in town, Lord Keston, Poppy fabricated a damning story that saw Ela banished to boarding school, with her family and reputation in tatters. Now, nearly three years later, eighteen-year-old Ela has one thing on her mind: revenge. With a little help from a wealthy benefactor, Ela has rebuilt herself as the alluring Lyra Whitley. All she needs to do is maintain her disguise and infiltrate London’s elite. Reuniting with Keston is definitely not part of the plan.
Determined not to let the only boy she ever loved derail her revenge mission, Ela intends to steal back the future that was taken from her, bringing down her former best friend in the process. But as she slyly ingratiates herself into the society that shunned her, Ela begins to feel at home in her new life. She discovers genuine friendship amongst the unaffected members of high society and she can’t resist the pull she still feels towards Keston, who’s just as good humoured and charming as he used to be – not to mention devastatingly handsome too. And the closer she gets to her end game, the more Ela begins to question whether vengeance is still her greatest desire.
Too much was hinging on this—my past, my present, my future. The familiar bubble of resentment and bitterness formed inside me, and I shoved it down. I could not afford to be distracted by my feelings.”
High on affluent glamour and backstabbing drama, Queen Bee has more in common with the TV show Revenge than Alexandre Dumas’ classic adventure novel – which works perfectly in the young adult context of the story. It might be fairly tame in its scheming and payback, but there’s just something so irresistible about books centred on characters seeking retribution for wrongs committed against them. Like Edmond Dantès and Emily Thorne, Ela is embittered by a very personal betrayal and she’s consumed by the need to make her enemies suffer like she did. But, just like those characters, she’s ruled by the strength of her emotions and she’s not immune to letting people into her heart. Ela might think that she wants revenge above everything else, but what she really craves is the love and youthful hopefulness that was stolen from her.
Howard captures the spirit of Regency England perfectly, weaving fictional characters and places with real ones. Her research into not just a woman’s place during those times, but the history of women of colour in British society too, adds credence to the story. Author’s notes in books are always interesting but Howard’s are particularly so, detailing the fascinating inspirations behind so many elements of the novel. It’s always enjoyable to read a YA historical romance that’s written with warmth and wit, but it’s even more enjoyable when you know that the author has put such a lot of time and heart into the story too.
Full of entertaining dialogue, sweet lessons in morality and sparkling high society scenes, Queen Bee wouldn’t be half as entertaining without its lively cast of characters. Just as Ela’s cynical soul is won over by Keston and his fun-loving friends, readers will find it impossible not to smile when the young group of lords, ladies and socialites are larking around, acting more like ordinary teenagers than aristocracy. Putting aside some more modern turns of phrase, which feel jarring in the historical context, this is a quick, fun YA Regency romance that’s ultimately more about forgiveness than it is revenge – a message that’s eternally relevant.
Queen Bee was published by Joy Revolution on 26 December 2023