The Majesties (Amazon Link)
Author : Tiffany Tsao
Published By : Atria Books
Year Published : January 21st, 2020
Genre / Tags : General Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Contemporary
Formats : Hardcover, Paperback, eBook
# of Pages : 272 pages (Hardcover)
Gwendolyn and Estella have always been as close as sisters can be. Growing up in a wealthy, eminent, and sometimes deceitful family, they’ve relied on each other for support and confidence. But now Gwendolyn is lying in a coma, the sole survivor of Estella’s poisoning of their whole clan.
As Gwendolyn struggles to regain consciousness, she desperately retraces her memories, trying to uncover the moment that led to this shocking and brutal act. Was it their aunt’s mysterious death at sea? Estella’s unhappy marriage to a dangerously brutish man? Or were the shifting loyalties and unspoken resentments at the heart of their opulent world too much to bear? Can Gwendolyn, at last, confront the carefully buried mysteries in their family’s past and the truth about who she and her sister really are?
This was a mostly blind read. All I knew were a few vague things like the cover being gorgeous and intriguing. Also, that it’s Asian-American fiction, probably literary, and centers around a family. It’s nice sometimes to go in with little info and get caught off guard.
I’ll just get this out of the way first and foremost- for me this was a five-star read, it clicked in a way that was effective and distinctive. Even just the first chapter pretty much blew me away. This book tries to do a lot. The first noticeable element is the poetic writing style. At best, there is plentiful and pretty, dreamy prose with vivid descriptions. At worst, the descriptions get overwrought or subtle looks into the family dynamics can come off as too vague to be relevant. This family (and its extended members) can be a tiresome lot. That said, I sense the author wrote every moment with intent- as a series of hints that would unravel the aims of the ending if you knew everything that was going to happen.
There are moments when the main character (in a very conversational style) digs into possible character motivations. These moments can be thought-provoking and psychologically interesting.
There is also exploration of political, racial, and social issues faced by (and in certain ways, practiced by) the Chinese-Indonesian characters. Some of what could be considered sub-stories in the narrative were touching and bend the genres that are explored here into an unusual and surprisingly harmonious assortment.
But foremost, this is a thriller/murder mystery of the domestic variety. In December I read two domestic thrillers and guessed the endings of both. After that misfortune, I made a sort of half-hearted promise to myself to not read anymore thrillers for a while. That was a short-lived promise since The Majesties is a thriller, but thankfully every occurrence was not perfectly guessable- not by a long shot. I think that because the narrative is exploring so many other things that interested me, those subjects served as distractions to what are actually several hints about the twists and turns. Without revealing too much, I’ll just say the revelations were satisfying and I felt like the ending was meaningful.
In closing, here are some things that I think readers should know about before diving in.
The characters here are not likable. Even the ones that are almost supposed to be aren’t really so. Certainly not in traditional ways. Am venturing a guess that this can automatically make this an unpalatable read for a lot of readers.
But weirdly, I felt for the sisters (even the villainous one) at the heart of this story and had a sort of compassion for the difficulties they faced. This mournful feeling somehow made this book extra dark and disturbing, as from page one it’s quite unrestrained with unflinching and self-aware criticisms of the characters, the world they’re in, their upbringing, and the eventual tragedy that consumed them all. Not unlike Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, anticipating the bad things that are going to happen didn’t make the journey there less impactful to read about.
Overall Rating – 9/10
Why You Should Try It – An absolutely loaded story. Between the psychological horror, family secrets, racial and political exploration, domestic drama, at times poetic metaphors, there is just… a lot of stuff going on. The thriller aspect managed to work its magic effectively for me. AKA I didn’t guess everything that happened, yay. If you’re looking for dark and self-aware fiction this is surprising and effective.
Why You Might Not Like It – Pointedly unlikable characters everywhere. Some sections seem like they’re attempting something deep but slow down the pace or just didn’t hit a worthwhile mark. Though I found the atmosphere thick with personality and uniqueness, it is very sour. Your mileage may vary on the guessability of this book. Some descriptions and ads I’ve seen reveal a lot by comparing this book to similar works.
Note : Many thanks to Netgalley and Atria Books for providing an e-ARC of this title.
The Majesties (Amazon Link)
Thanks for reading my review of The Majesties! Have you read it or are planning to read it? I’m pretty sure January is enchanted for some reason. (Or whichever word I should use for the opposite of cursed.) January of 2019 I read You by Caroline Kepnes, a thriller, and it was honestly my favorite book of that year. January of 2020 I’ve read The Majesties, a thriller, and am here giving it top marks- not sure if it will be my favorite read of 2020 but this reading year is looking promising so far. ~ Kitty