Prophecies are tricksy, especially when the prophecies are being manipulated by the humans who run a church for their own temporal ends. The Third Daughter explores what happens when various parties try to shift prophecy in their favour. From a slighted onetime heir to the throne to a power-hungry church official to just a girl from Harborside, everyone wants to have a say in how (or even if) the New Maiden will rule over Velle. Adrienne Tooley’s novel is a delicious mixture of mistakes and missteps, intrigue and indignation. I received an eARC from NetGalley and publisher Little, Brown.
Elodie is the eldest of three daughters of the recently deceased Queen of Velle. She should have inherited the throne save for a prophecy that the third daughter of a third daughter would be the reincarnation of Velle’s famous New Maiden. Elodie’s younger sister, Brianne, fits this description, and so the people of Velle crown Brianne instead. Though Elodie claims she has no desire for power for power’s sake, she believes she would be a better ruler—and more importantly, she doesn’t think thirteen-year-old Brianne is a match for the machinations of her new regent, the Chaplain of the Church of the New Maiden. Elodie obtains what she thinks is a sleeping potion from a poor girl in Harborside, but it is actually a magical elixir that plays right into the Chaplain’s hands. Desperate to save her country and retain her freedom, Elodie finds herself working with this girl—Sabine—to right the situation before everything spirals out of control.
Tooley sets up complex character dynamics, particularly between privileged Elodie and poor Sabine. Elodie is made out to be an unsympathetic character; Sabine the opposite. Their attraction to each other is also obvious—I really like this queernormative world where they don’t even feel a need to label stuff. Elodie is just very clearly into girls! The romance is an important part of the plot, yet this is not a romance story, and I also appreciate that distinction.
The differing motives and needs of Elodie and Sabine create layers of conflict atop the main one. Despite their mutual attraction, they don’t really want the same thing. Elodie wants to be queen without killing her sister. Sabine wants to rescue her sister from a terrible fate but needs money to do it. Both are motivated by sibling love, which is just as valid as romantic love.
I wish we had learned more about the Chaplain, his backstory, and the motivations of the Church. Every time the Chaplain shows up, he is such a sneering, supercilious, one-dimensional character. And it remains unclear to me why the Church, at least as Elodie saw it, was courting countries outside of Velle at the expense of Velle’s own citizens. I’m happy for organized religion to be the bad guy, especially when it’s a commentary on how many such religions are misogynist and eager to replace female saviours with male ones. Nevertheless, I would have liked to see more of the Church’s machinations.
I also found the overall plot rather predictable. This is not a charge I make lightly, for I understand the value of foreshadowing leading a reader to deduce information before it’s revealed to characters. That’s not what was happening here, in my opinion—Tooley telegraphs certain twists in such an obvious way that I was not at all invested in their eventual reveals. The Third Daughter hence lacks much in the way of suspense, though it still retains plenty of mystery.
Whether or not you decide to read the sequel (apparently this is a duology) will likely hinge on how invested you feel in that mystery. I, for one, enjoyed the book enough that I might read the sequel; however, I’m not champing at the bit for it.