Recently, many writers have attempted to tap into the young adult market by retelling old fairy tales or recycling and repackaging “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder have deviated from this mold by creating an interesting fantasy called “Except the Queen,” a wonderfully refreshing fairy tale that has restyled the urban fantasy.
Sisters Serana and Meteora live in the realm of Fairy. One day, they see the Queen of the Fairies engaging in relations with a mortal man. Those relations result in a baby girl. Many years pass, with the twin sisters agreeing not to tell anyone about the encounter. But one day, Meteora tells some boogans and both sisters are banished from Fairy into the human realm.
On Earth, they are old women, bereft of all their magical powers. They are separated, sent to different cities. Serana ends up in New York City while Meteora finds herself in Milwaukee. Serana is helped by crow children Halflings, social worker Jamie Oldcourse and the kind grocer Mr. Flores. She becomes “Mabel Farmer.” Meteora encounters Baba Yaga in Milwaukee, moves into her house and meets Sparrow, a troubled young woman who lives in the apartment below her. She becomes “Sophia.” Each woman learns to take care of herself in a world that is simultaneously normal and abnormal — magical seelie and unseelie mixing with “normal” urban dwellers.
The sisters begin corresponding, first by attaching notes to the legs of doves and then progressing to the U.S. mail, which they call “Eagle Mail.” They share their experiences and discover that each has found a troubled young person who they feel compelled to help.
Serana meets a street musician named Robin, who is half human, half unseelie. He hides a hideous past. Under Serana’s care, Robin is turned from the evil task set by his unseelie father of finding the child of the Fairy Queen.
In Milwaukee, Meteora’s downstairs neighbor, Sparrow, begins having nightmares after a tattoo artist, Hawk, imprints an evil symbol on her neck. Meteora can see the young woman is troubled and offers friendship, but Sparrow rebuffs her.
Serana decides to send Robin to Meteora in Milwaukee because Serana and Robin have begun to be noticed by the exiled seelie and unseelie community in New York. Robin exchanges his return bus ticket for a fiddle. His fiddle playing is the only thing that can calm Sparrow’s nightmares and help her sleep. Sparrow is attracted to Robin but she doesn’t know why. To reveal the reason would spoil the book, but I will say that the story climaxes with a fight between good and evil.
As “Except the Queen” progresses, Serana and Meteora grow from selfish immortals into red-blooded heroines. Crones they might be, but they are tough. Readers who love a modern-day fairy tale will find themselves cheering for these tenacious sisters.