This is a good, if perhaps, flawed story. It posits a very strange world, one that selects at the age of eight 26 girls based solely on their capacity for self-control and stamina. At 17, the girl who most excels at these two qualities becomes her world’s “unflinching rod,” The Candle Queen. It is her duty into old age to wear upon her head a metal bowl on which three large candles sit upon a heavy plate. If she doesn’t–if for even a moment her concentration falters and she fails to keep her head upright—the candles might go out. And if they do, the world will end. Or so it is said.
For the girl selected for this “honor,” it is not much of a life. Fortunately, the Candle Queen has a handmaiden named Anne who considers it her duty, as well as her pleasure, to introduce her queen to the joys of intimacy and personal freedom. Which, of course, underscores the tension—in her world and ours—between duty and freedom.
I have only one quibble regarding this story. As metaphor, it works wonderfully well. In the fantasy world Gale posits, however, it seems unlikely that even the most disciplined person could sit or stand bolt upright for years—let alone a lifetime.