Now Reading
G.R. Macallister’s Top 10 Fictional Queens

G.R. Macallister’s Top 10 Fictional Queens

From C.S. Lewis to Lev Grossman, writers across the years have created memorable female monarchs who delight, appall, and above all, intrigue us.

In fiction, some of the best queens are the worst. What makes a fictional ruler memorable isn’t always what we like to see from real-world monarchs—in fact, the opposite is often true. But it takes more than just an appetite for evil to keep any particular queen from fiction on our minds. How she grows into her power, how she walks the exquisite tightrope of balancing her royal responsibilities with her personal, private emotions—these are the dilemmas and conflicts that keep readers coming back for more.

In my own Five Queendoms series, one of the things that excited me most about populating a matriarchal world of queendoms was the opportunity to create a wide variety of queens. Some are willing to die for their people; others are willing to kill. But each is a complex character, not as easy to sum up in terms of good or evil. A benevolent ruler and loving mother can fail to take action in the face of conflict, dooming herself and her nation; a sorcerer power-hungry enough to sacrifice others’ lives to extend her own can hunger so desperately for love and affection that she places her trust where she shouldn’t. It has long been a truism in fiction that good people can do bad things and vice versa, but it’s rare to explore that concept with a huge cast of powerful, intelligent women.

Scorpica, the first book of the series, introduces you to queens who are fierce warriors, shy scholars, chaste priests, powerful sorcerers, and ambitious revenge-seekers. The world of epic fantasy inspired me with its many memorable queens, but as you can see from the list below, it’s not the only genre that can put a compelling woman on the fictional throne.

Cersei Lannister, Queen of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, from Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Due to the overwhelming popularity of the TV adaptation of the Song of Ice and Fire series, if you ask a group of people the first fictional queen who springs to mind, you’ll likely hear Cersei’s name. As Cersei’s power grows over the course of the series, so does her ruthlessness, racking up sins from incest to murder without many regrets. As a person, she’s reprehensible. As a ruler, she’s unforgettable.

Sabran the Ninth, Queen of Inys, from Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon 

The pressure on a queen to bear an heir isn’t a new topic in fiction. But it’s a whole different kind of pressure when that queen needs to bear a daughter for the 1000-year line of her house to continue—because that unbroken line has kept an ancient evil, a dragon known as “the Nameless One,” at bay. Matriarchy meets dragons meets queer love meets magic, and Queen Sabran is at the heart of it all, navigating impossible choices at every turn.

Julia Wicker, High Queen of Fillory, from Lev Grossman’s The Magicians series

Quentin Coldwater is technically the protagonist of the Magicians series, but Julia has a much more interesting journey. Excluded from Brakebills, she endures a rocky journey to learning magic as a hedge witch, and not only does she rise to rule Fillory as one of its high queens, she also has a stint as an actual goddess. The lows of Julia’s life are painfully low, making it all the more rewarding when she earns her highs.

Queen Lucy, from the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis 

Some queens are memorable for their misdeeds, but Queen Lucy Pevensie stands out on the other side of the scale: she’s helpful, constant, brave, and loving. As a child, she’s the first to see Narnia, and as she grows up over the course of the series, she never loses her idealism, persistence and faith. It’s tempting to call the evil White Witch the standout queen of Narnia, but she fades from view relatively quickly. Queen Lucy the Valiant abides. Plus, it’s interesting that Lewis positions Lucy’s traits that are traditionally associated with femininity as the key to ultimate victory. There are plenty of swords, spells and violence in Narnia, but without patience and conscience, they don’t necessarily win the day.

Svanhild, from The Sea Queen by Linnea Hartsuyker

In this saga of Viking-Age Scandinavia, Svanhild’s title of “Queen” is more of an honorific than a position in the monarchy, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t rule. Caught in an impossible position between her rebel husband Solvi and brother-king Ragnvald—not to mention how motherhood shifts her loyalties—Svanhild forges her own path through tragedy, triumph, passion and power.

The Queen of Hearts, from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

“Off with her head!” The Queen of Hearts is known primarily for her quick temper and fondness for ordering executions, even if many of the doomed escape their sentences. She’s a creature of pure emotion, sometimes frightening, sometimes pitiable. But whether she’s a person or, as Alice shouts, “just a pack of cards,” there’s something appealing about a queen who owns her fury and power without apologies.

Titania, Queen of the Fairies, from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare

Human lands aren’t the only ones that have monarchs, and in Shakespeare’s delightful, madcap comedy set in a forest outside of Athens, Titania and her husband Oberon jointly rule the fairy kingdom. Elegant, proud, beautiful, and dignified, Titania is the embodiment of royalty, until a disagreement between her and her husband spirals into a number of escalating enchantments, one of which causes her to fall in love with a donkey-headed weaver. Hey, we’ve all been there, at least metaphorically.

Akasha, Queen of the Damned, from The Vampire Chronicles series by Anne Rice

Where did vampires come from? Well, in Anne Rice’s world, it all started in 4000BC, when Akasha, the not-very-nice queen of the land that would eventually become Egypt, was possessed by an evil spirit named Amel on her deathbed. This transforms her into a vampire, and when she allows her dying husband to drink her blood, he’s similarly transformed. Since she’s now a vampire, of course, death is just the beginning of Akasha’s adventures.

Queen Talyien, from The Wolf of Oren-Yaro, by K.S. Villoso

Queens with crowns are a dime a dozen; what about a queen with a serious sword? Queen Talyien, aka Tali, is reviled by her nation for murdering a man and driving off her husband the night before her scheduled coronation—and it’s hard to tell which crime is considered more heinous, considering that marriage to King Rayyel was supposed to unite rival factions of their divided nation. Left alone with her young son to rule a nation that hates her is not exactly any queen’s idea of a good time, and Tali gets hit with plenty of other major challenges throughout the book—like staying alive.

Galadriel, from The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

The reigns of non-human queens are often longer than those of their human counterparts. But although Galadriel lives an extraordinarily long life in Middle Earth, one of her signal virtues is her ability to resist striving for power. No small feat for a beautiful, royal elf standing more than six feet tall with the ability to see inside people’s minds. But when offered the One Ring, Galadriel resists its evil influence and refuses its power outright. Even when ruling over various groups of elves jointly with her husband Celeborn during the Second and Third Ages, she generally uses the title Lady and is often called the Lady of Light. But make no mistake: she rules.

Scorpica: The Five Queendoms was published by Titan Books on 22 February 2022

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.