The erratic decisions of a prophecy-obsessed king have drained Innis Lear of its wild magic, leaving behind a trail of barren crops and despondent subjects. Enemy nations circle the once-bountiful isle, sensing its growing vulnerability. The king’s three daughters – battle-hungry Gaela, master manipulator Regan, and star-blessed Elia – know the realm’s only chance of resurrection is to crown a new sovereign. But their father will not choose an heir until the longest night of the year, when prophecies align. Refusing to leave their future in the hands of blind faith, the daughters of Innis Lear prepare for war.

This fantasy retelling of King Lear is Tessa Gratton’s debut adult novel, a story full of magic and starlight, blood and earth, family and betrayal. Though there’s no need to know anything about the original story, those who have read or seen Shakespeare’s play will find much to enjoy in Gratton’s clever reinvention.

I have conflicting feelings about this book. On the one hand, Gratton’s writing is beautiful and lyrical and rich with description. On the other hand, there was so much unnecessary description (I’ll scream if I have to read another description of Elia’s curly hair) and so many pointless flashbacks that I couldn’t help but get bored.

At the heart of the story are three ferocious and fascinating women – princesses Gaela, Regan and Elia. But forget any idea of Disney princesses in pretty dresses; Gratton gives us three women who are dealing with very real issues – struggling with faith, with miscarriages and childlessness, with family and friendship and marriage, with the constant pressure to be other than what they are.

There are also a host of other characters, some of whom are just as enthralling as the three sisters, and others who only serve to clutter up the story and slow down the pace. We have Ban the Fox, Elia’s childhood friend and wizard of Innis Lear who has about 10 different chips on his shoulder; Morimaros, king of a rival nation who wants to bring the island under his control; Aefa, Elia’s close friend and daughter of the king’s fool; and many, many more. With all these varied and different characters, Gratton has created an interesting portrait of a troubled world on the brink of war, but there is much that could have been cut without losing anything.

Gratton’s emphasis on character over plot means that she really hones in on what makes her characters tick. Unfortunately, this meant minute-by-minute descriptions of what they were thinking, what their motivations were and what they were planning to do next. Of course readers want to understand the characters in stories, but Gratton left nothing to the imagination, and many of the chapters simply concern characters sitting and thinking things through, leaving me longing for something to move the plot forwards.

My favourite part of the whole novel was the conflict between the two different types of magic. We have the star magic favoured by the king, in which prophecies are found in the heavens, and we have the earth magic in the whispering of trees and the voice of the wind. The island of Innis Lear becomes another character, very much alive and capable of choosing who it wants for its monarch. The magic is fascinating and Gratton’s descriptions are at her best when she’s describing the conflict inherent within it.

Fans of character-driven fantasy will find much to love here; just be warned that you’re in for a slow ride.