Review: The Black Queen

The Black Queen is a 2023 Young Adult literature debut novel by Jumata Emill published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House. The Black Queen tells the story of Nova Albright, a young Black woman who was going to be the first Black Homecoming Queen at Lovett High. However, on the night of her coronation, she is found dead in a local, former slave cemetery that she was, ironically, trying to preserve and worked on. The same night of Nova’s murder, a video of Tinsley McArthur, the teenage white socialite Queen Bee of the community from an old money family, circulates threatening to murder Nova and dump her body in the cemetery she spent her weekends rehabilitating to get back at her for stealing her crown and legacy. Everyone in the community, Black or white, believe young Tinsley to be guilty of Nova’s murder; everyone except for Duchess Simmons, Nova’s best friend and daughter of the first Black police captain, who begins to doubt the certainty of Tinsley’s guilt. Unhappy with how the police’s investigation is going and its focus on Tinsley, Duchess starts looking into Nova’s death and life in order to find the real guilty party. Aided by Tinsley, Duchess begins to learn more about her deceased friend and the secrets she was keeping. Dangerous secrets that some people would even kill to keep quiet.

If the previous summary at all piques your interests, highly recommend picking up a copy of the book as soon as able. It legitimately is an engaging and interesting read that manages to have cogent and timely social commentary while still being a solid mystery thriller that does not do the classic, modern blunder of just having a random reveal tie everything up at the end. That is one of my biggest pet peeves and annoyances concerning current mystery in all mediums. Instead of slowly developing the mystery and leaving hints or clues foreshadowing the possible criminals and how they performed their crimes, modern stories tend to just have a haphazardly constructed solution in order to surprise audiences. The Black Queen instead spends its time following leads through the perspectives and actions of its two main protagonists, Duchess and Tinsley, explaining red herrings, establishing timelines and motives, and, in essence, showing an actual investigation. Even with its ‘surprise’ culprits at the novel’s conclusion, the reveal is not shocking because there is still motives and opportunity presented and expanded on throughout the book’s pages.

The book also touches on social issues around classism, progressivism, activism, with race and race relations, particularly amid Black and white lines, being a major point of discussion throughout each other issue. The story parallels two murders: the death of Nova Albright, a Black girl, with a seemingly obvious white suspect and that of a white woman with a seemingly obvious Black male suspect. This other murder case is alluded to many times by various characters in the novel to demonstrate the two different justice systems in the United States: one for white people and the other for everyone else. The intriguing thing that The Black Queen does, however, is place Tinsley, the privileged white girl, in the same position as the accused Black man as both are quickly and incorrectly framed as guilty of their crimes. This situation complicates the narrative and social commentary as many of the Black residents of the community want to see Tinsley punished initially believing her to be guilty of the crime then shifting to simply wanting to see a privileged white girl treated the same way so many of them have in the past regardless of her actual culpability. Duchess, on the other hand, wants to find Nova’s real killer and have justice done for her friend. It is an interesting presentation as Duchess verbally states to her friends at one point how wanting Tinsley to suffer is not the same as wanting justice for Nova and that desiring the former instead of the latter is no better than how white dominated society functions. I imagine that will be a point of contention; one that was most likely intentional and will hopefully lead to examination and conversation.

Overall, The Black Queen is a well executed story that presents a solid mystery thriller with precise social commentary and criticism that audiences across various demographics would undoubtedly enjoy. If you are a fan of murder mysteries, this book is for you.

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