When I saw Adrienne Tooley’s young adult fantasy novel, The Third Daughter, at my neighborhood bookstore, I immediately plucked it off the shelf and took it to the register to purchase. It’s young adult fantasy with two women leads; it was always going to call to me — but what turned it into an auto-buy was the Post-It note attached to the shelf. A flimsy lime-green placeholder for one of the voicey, detailed recommendation cards that are always tucked around the shop, with three words scrawled on it: “magical furious lesbians.”
It goes like this: In the land of Velle, there’s a queendom that has lasted for as long as anyone can remember. A legacy of tough, beloved Warnou women. They rule with the support of the Church of the New Maiden, worshippers of a woman who brought peace and prosperity to the land many generations ago, and promised her followers she would return one day as the third daughter of a third daughter. The people are shocked when the New Maiden’s prophecy arrives as royalty. The current Warnou queen is a third daughter, and she gives birth to a third daughter. But our (anti?) hero isn’t the third daughter; she’s the first: Elodie Warnou. Driven, demanding, myopic, relentless in her pursuit of perfection. On the day of her sister’s coronation, she finds herself in need of a potion, so she sneaks off to the Night Market, where she gets way more than she bargained for.
Sabine is an apothecary who sells sadness — literally. Her mother makes regular old herbal brews and tinctures that become actual magical potions when Sabine adds her tears to them. No one seems to know why her tears are so powerful, but they’re the only thing keeping her family fed, with a roof over their heads. Her sadness is her family’s most valuable asset. Sabine thinks she’s destined to spend her entire life storing up her misery in her veins, cowering under the threadbare blanket on the lumpy pallet in her parents home — until she runs into Elodie at the Night Market and accidentally sells her an entire vial of her tears.
The two women assume they’ll never see each other again after their chance encounter, but they could not be more wrong. Sabine’s undiluted tears cause an event that sends the queendom spiraling into chaos, and she and Elodie find themselves working together to try to fix it. Every step they take, though, leads them into a maze of bigger secrets and more horrifying truths. Also true? They start falling for each other, and are forced to reckon with it when they end up at a grubby inn, hooked into the ONE BED TROPE.
The Third Daughter is the second queer fantasy book I’ve read this year that is absolutely boiling with rage at patriarchal religions, and all the men who prop them up, and now that I’ve had this double-dipped taste of my own fury in book form, I am begging for it to become a trend. Like its spiritual sister, The Daughters of Izdihar, The Third Daughter‘s queer protagonists are not your average fantasy heroines. They hate authority, they refuse to follow rules just because they’re rules, they distrust every institution, and if they need to use unsavory means to tear all those things down? Well, so be it. Also, like The Daughters of Izdihar, there’s a whole layer of commentary happening underneath the surface of the story about wealth disparity and the endless dangers of being a poor woman.
Sabine’s magic is a kind of darkness inside her, and it manifests an awful lot like depression. Her family defines her by it, to the point that Sabine begins to think her only option is to let it consume her. Elodie empowers her by seeing her darkness and not shrinking away from it. “Sabine’s life would have been so different if she’d been allowed to interpret the emotion she felt not as weakness, but as power,” she thinks the day after she finally kisses Elodie for the first time.
The Third Daughter is the first novel in the Betrayal Prophecies series, and it’s a good thing, because my only complaint about the book is that I wish it had been four times as long.