I started reading A Rianha do Ignoto (The Queen of Ignoto) after a friend stumbled upon a copy in a used bookshop 2019, and lent me her copy. I fell in love with the narrative,  and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since.

The first fantasy book published in Brazil, A Rainha do Ignoto is also the first book published by a woman in the northeastern state of Ceará. Given that it was first published in 1899, it has pretty feminist overtones, preaching the extension of women's rights and rejecting all forms of oppression and discrimination. However, the story is filled with pessimism, as if the author — Emília Freitas — realized the utopia of women’s liberation would never be fully realized. With more than 100 years of hindsight, she wasn't exactly wrong on that one.

Freitas tells the story of a beautiful woman navigating the Jaguaribe river crossing the city of Jaguaruana (also Freitas’ hometown) while a man, a lawyer from the capital, is leaning over his bedroom window. She’s a mysterious and beautiful woman and her image is fixed in the memory of the lawyer, who does everything to find her.

Her name is Funesta (that could be translated as Grim) and she’s part of a local legend: People see her often, but they are too afraid to go after her. She’s also the Queen of Ignoto [in Portuguese, ignoto means something that is ignored, unknown], a utopian island known as the Misty Island, a secret society of women who have been victims of violence and suffering due to their gender. Funesta recruited those women and took them to the island, forming a community of women free form the chains of a sexist society.

The book explores themes common to the European fantasy literature of the time: tension between reason (the male) and superstition (the demonization of women); but it also focuses on the life of free women, their utopian community, calling into question traditional gender roles that are so in vogue today.

The Portuguese-language version of A Rainha do Ignoto is available on Amazon.