Book review: Tales of the High Court by Megan Derr

The Tales of the High Court series by Megan Derr encompasses five full-length novels.

Each novel focuses on a different couple but continues an over-reaching story arc. The series is set in a fictional world that has no modern technology – no cars, computers, phones, etc. There are a number of countries/kingdoms in the world, with most ruled over by the High King of Harken.

The most interesting thing for me is the way the Harken empire views genders. Children are not assigned genders at birth, but choose their own gender when they’re ready.

‘Identical twins, born in the earliest hours of the morning, named for minor demi-gods of hope and joy. They’d been four when Chiri had declared she was a girl, and Chara had announced a few months later he was a boy.’

The Heart of the Lost Star by Megan Derr

In book one, the two main characters are High King Sarrica and Prince Allen. High King Sarrica was previously married to a man who died at war. However, over the course of the story, it becomes clear that Sarrica’s husband gave birth to his two children. It is only with tidbits like this that we become aware that Sarrica’s deceased husband was biologically female but recognised by the world as a man and treated as such. There is no word for ‘transgender’ in their world.

‘it’s now rightfully considered in poor taste to clarify what sort of genitals a person has unless they prefer those particular pronouns.’

The Heart of the Lost Star by Megan Derr

The only way the people of that world seem to differentiate between biological and chosen genders is by noting whether or not a person is biologically capable of becoming pregnant.

‘My mother would give birth to kittens if I took up as a merchant, and she doesn’t even have the right parts.’

The Fallen King’s Penitent Soldier by Megan Derr

If a couple wanted to have children but neither partner was capable of becoming pregnant, they would use what is referred to as a ‘dame’, which is a surrogate.

Not all the countries/kingdoms in the world work the same way in relation to gender, which allows the author to showcase the topic.

“Men can bear children and keep a house as well.” Myra laughed and finished his wine, setting the cup down with a hard clack on the edge of the desk. “As I said, they are nothing like Harken. Everyone here considers me a man because I am one, but were I to go home, they would say I was a woman who gave up being so to live ‘like a man’ so I could be an assassin, since my family had too many daughters and not enough sons to bring the family honor and prestige.”
“I…” Jader shook his head, stood, and poured them both more wine. “That is very old-fashioned thinking.”

The Mercenaries of the Stolen Moon by Megan Derr

There are no gender-specific roles in Harken, which makes for interesting reading as there are a number of military and battle scenes across the books. None of the military roles or ranks are gender-specific.

‘Like most sailors, she wore a leather cord around her neck strung with beads that indicated she was a woman, since some cultures were weirdly old-fashioned and rigid when it came to things like gender and didn’t default to a neutral when they weren’t sure what an individual preferred.’

The Mercenaries of the Stolen Moon by Megan Derr

My own children are grown now, but I watch as others have children and wonder how long it will be before we stop assigning gender at birth and wait for children to tell us what gender (if any) they wish to be identified as. I imagine that time will come. This series gives us an insight into how that might look and work, albeit in a fictional world that does not share our technology. I found the series compelling and fascinating, and I highly recommend it. The characters were all well fleshed out and a number of them were quite witty (especially Lesto in his interactions with Sarrica).

“I’m about to implement a policy of throwing people out the window whenever they make my life harder instead of easier.”
“With greatest respect,” Lesto drawled, “Your Majesty would have to pitch himself out first.”

The High King’s Golden Tongue by Megan Derr

Each novel is a romance, but they are gritty books. In terms of trigger warnings, I hope this suffices: A number of the characters are active soldiers and the empire is at war during much (if not all) of the series, so there are battle scenes and on-page death of secondary and minor characters. Several of the characters are tortured, both on-page and historical. The last book also features a victim of rape and his memories of such. There are also explicit sex scenes in which the author uses the traditional terms for genitals regardless of the gender of the person. I have read books in which a transgender character prefers to use the words that match their gender even if their genitals don’t match those terms, but in this book the author doesn’t do that. Also, book four contains mis-gendering and deadnaming by family members. For me, book four was a four-star read and the others were all five-star reads.


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