You know when you start a book, and you’re not sure if it’s for you, but you can’t put it down within a few chapters? That was me with The Black Queen. This was a book that I was lucky enough to be sent an early finished copy of by Scholastic. The summary sounded fascinating, but the murder doesn’t happen for a few chapters. Once Nova is found dead, you’re stuck in the web that Emill has created, but you won’t want to be free until the final page.
Lovett High is a school where segregation is key, and the white students rule all. They’ve never had a black homecoming queen until Nova Albright. But Tinsley McArthur wants her to step down. When Nova refuses, Tinsley is caught threatening to kill her the night she’s murdered. All fingers point to the killer being Tinsley, including that of Nova’s best friend, Duchess. The only way for Duchess to find out what really happened to Nova is to work with Tinsley to find proof. As they do, they reveal secrets about their town that they never expected.
This book says that it’s an examination of race and privilege, and it very much is. I’m a white woman, so I have no clue what these black characters have to deal with daily. But despite that, this book still made me so angry. The way the police treat black and white suspects is so undeniable. I know that from real life. I see that on social media, and it’s disgusting. You’re in the head of a black character after a friend was lost to a violent crime. That’s hard enough. Then you’re also following a rich white character who doesn’t seem to understand their privilege? Who, on top of that, sometimes thinks and does racist things? It can make the reader uncomfortable, but that’s clearly on purpose.
I struggled to like Tinsley, and being in her head could suck. But she was still a fascinating part of the story. She could be thoughtless, but she was trying to find out who killed Nova, and she began working on her attitude towards POC people. But she’s still pretty selfish, and it’s hard to actually like her through a lot of the story. Though I did appreciate the way she tried to help her sister.
That said, I was happy that she and Duchess had the chance to work on their friendship. They’d been close as kids, but Tinsley’s mum had ensured they wouldn’t grow any closer. Because she’s a massive racist, obviously. She is possibly also a homophobe since she freaked out when Duchess kissed Tinsley.
There’s no romance between Duchess and Tinsley, though. Duchess has a girlfriend throughout. It means we’ve got queer characters, but their queerness isn’t the main focus. It’s just another aspect of Duchess, and that’s great.
It’s for the best, as there’s a lot of drama and scandals. Trigger warning for past mentioned CSA in this book, and there is a teacher/student relationship in the present too. So if those things make you uncomfortable, avoid this book as they explain a lot about one of the characters.
The only problem with all those scandals and all that drama is that it did make this book pretty predictable. I could guess who the killer was, and I worked out most of the scandals that led up to the discovery before they were revealed. It made me roll my eyes a little, but it wasn’t the worst. I still had a good time and struggled to put the book down. It just didn’t feel very twisty to me.
Still, this book was unputdownable, and I recommend it to those looking for an exciting new thriller.
Title: The Black Queen
Author: Jumata Emill
Age Range: Young Adult
Release Date: 2/2/23