Book Review: “Queen and Commander” by Janine Southard

Book One of the Hive Queen Saga

“Queen and Commander” (Q&C) is the first book in the new Hive Queen Saga by Janine Southard. The author is an experienced editor and content creator for print and interactive media and the book is her foray into speculative fiction for young adults. 

Set in a world where standardized tests determine lifelong careers for teens, the book introduces us to Rhiannon, a precocious teen who games the system to be chosen as a “Queen-and-commander”, probably the highest career a girl in this society can aspire to. As a Queen, once she completes her university education, Rhiannon would have the freedom to choose from the best of her peers to populate her hive, or personal/professional family that will be an integral part of her life (and the lives she will beget). Without giving away any spoilers, let me say that things do not work out the way she expects them to.  

First the good part - Q&C is an excellent first book, and it keeps the reader excited about the next part in the adventures of Rhiannon and her hive. The pace is not hurried, but nor does the author take her time to immerse the reader into the world. The characters are quirky, intelligent (when they are), and also the simple idealists that we all are at that age in life. The author captures the emotional spectrum of the teen life quite appropriately.

On the other side, this tale tries to be part teen-romance, part space drama aimed at young adult, while hinting at some very mature content. Overall, the feeling I left with is that this is a young adult story (with all of the dominant themes of the genre) that simply occurs in this other-world colony in outer space. The characters are not completely stereotypical, but they are unable to escape the trappings of familiarity found in young adult stories (the outcast romantic, the genius who turns into a friend, the BFF who may not be a BFF anymore, the cynic who turns into a friend etc.). The size of the e-book, at about 260 pages, prevents the author from developing the society and the worlds that these characters inhabit in more detail. And this is where the story is unable to hold the reader. Not having enough information about Rhiannon and her world, at no point in the story did I feel personally vested in the main character. As a reader of speculative fiction and space operas, I sincerely wished that this book was at least twice as long.

I would certainly read the upcoming adventures of the crew of Ceridwen Cauldron, and recommend Q&C as a good afternoon read for a weekend.