[Friday Flash Review] And I Darken, by Kiersten White

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❧ Title: And I Darken (Conqueror’s Saga #1)
❧ Author: Kiersten White
❧ Publisher: Delacorte Press
❧ Publication date: 28th June 2016
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦✦
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No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

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and i darken❝In A Nutshell❞

✎A re-imagining of the story of Vlad the Impaler, actual man-person and not the would-be vampire of myth. In this, his daughter, Lada, is set to rise to the legendary heights of Vlad in his stead, in a historical revisiting of the setting and his rise to power. Lada is a fierce princess with a very soft, handsome and clever brother, Radu. Lada and Radu are sent into the heart of the Ottoman Empire by their father as part of his politicking, when his own influence and position begins to slip. They are essentially hostages to ensure his cooperation.

✎ Lada is not a typical princess. She is a skilled warrior, violent and even vicious, and she refuses to let her home go. She wants the power and position of a man and refuses to play the courtly games her brother is so skilled at, whereas he shies away from battle and war unless absolutely necessary. They are very close as siblings but the relationship can be strained at times. They will defend one another at all costs.

✎Diverse ☒ (race (the majority of the book takes place in the Ottoman empire with only a few characters from outside), queerness, positive depiction of Islam); not #ownvoices.

✎ History and politics and love and war and a thousand things besides.
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❝What I loved❞
✎ Radu is gay. He is gay and he is a main character. Did I mention he’s gay? G A Y. Also, he’s gay.

✎ Lada is terrifying and brilliant and you want her on your team for absolutely anything ever that involves horrible killing and maiming because she will win and also scare you just a little.

✎ A positive, historical(ly accurate- afaik) depiction of Islam.

✎ This book is rich with intrigue and tension and filled with suspense. It is a luscious adventure into the past where the world comes alive in full colour. The level of detail and research was impressive and shone through, showing how much ground work and reading (and visiting!) White must have done. There is a fierceness to the narrative that Lada conveys and it is at times both horrifying and readable, whereas Radu’s gentler wit weaves an almost poetic story alongside his sister’s. The two are a contrast, yet entirely complementary. Radu’s sexuality is treated as a learning of his own self and it is not badly written. There is a lot of truth to Radu’s slow realisation of his feelings for Memed (not a spolier; sorry not sorry) that really shows how carefully his story was approached by a writer who is very obviously not a gay boy!

And I Darken is so gripping it’s impossible to put down. If we’re not being held hostage by the tense narrative of Lada and Radu’s childhood years, we’re kept at the edge of our seats as we’re invited right into the heart of the intrigue of the court as Lada and Radu aim to, at first, survive, and then eventually, to thrive. This was one of my very favourite books of 2016.
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❝If you liked this…❞
…then you might also like: I don’t read much historical fiction so I genuinely have no idea? Maybe possibly, for “history with a twist” (which is the closest I can come), check out Anne Lyle’s Alchemist of Souls books. They’re not YA, but they rep queer MCs and I enjoyed entering a slightly-alternative Elizabethan England when I read them way back.

The Crown’s Game, by Evelyn Skye

Title: The Crown’s Game (The Crown’s Game #1)
Author: Evelyn Skye
Publisher: Balzer+Bray
Publication date: 17th May 2016 (US) 30th June 2016 (UK)
Rating: ★★★★★

CrownsGame hc cThe Crown’s Game, by Evelyn Skye, is another Truthwitch (by Susan Dennard). Not that they have anything at all in common—which they don’t, as it happens—but rather that this book is so hyped it’s unreal. And yet, as with Truthwitch: the hype is real.

There’s always a certain glee at reading a book that everyone is telling you you’re going to love, and then you actually do love. A tiny wee part of me was braced for disappointment. Not because anything about the book or the hype had put me off, but for two reasons: a) I’d rather be ready for the disappointment of a hyped book not quite hitting the spot and b) I always enter into books with a structured conflict (such as Vika and Nikolai’s duel to the death) with a thin veil of detachment, so I can figure out if it’s worth investing myself, when we’re pretty much told from the offset that someone is going to lose.

That veil did not last long.

Because this book is wonderful.

We’re introduced to an alternate Imperial Russia where magic is secret but real, and the time has come for Russia to once again appoint an Imperial Enchanter. Ordinarily, this is a simple task, with there being a single enchanter at any given time. Unfortunately for both Vika and Nikolai, who have been training their whole lives in preparation for being Imperial Enchanter to the Tsar, this time, things are a little different.

When there are two enchanters, the Crown’s Game must begin.

Vika has been raised on an island with her father, Sergei, and she knows nothing of the other enchanter out there. One day, she will be Imperial Enchanter and she will serve Russia, making her father proud. Nikolai, on the other hand, an orphan from the Kazakh Steppe who was bought from his village for a handful of livestock, has been raised and trained to be the best. Galina, Sergei’s sister, has been a ruthless mentor, giving nothing in the way of love or a comfortable life outside of dressing him for show and parading him as her dear little charity case.

Whilst Nikolai has been studying and mastering his magic through craft, engineering and more scientific ventures, Vika’s magic is all the wildness of natural energies and the very world around her. They are unalike in every way.

But it is time for the tsesarevich’s birthday, and to coincide with the beginning of the Game, both Vika and Nikolai are commanded to make their moves part of his birthday festivities. With no other guidelines given, the two enchanters are set against one another from the offset. And with their mentors whisked away to Siberia, they are left alone to participate in the Game.

Perhaps Nikolai stands a better chance of knowing how to make an impression, since he is best friends with the tsesarevich. But Pavel Alexandrovich Romanov knows nothing of his friend’s magic, or the Game, so even though they are close, things won’t be as simple as he might have hoped. In turn, Vika soon realises that she has caught the attention of Pasha, but with the tension of the Game and the growing fear for her life with each and every move of the Game, she might be too caught up in the magic to know how to use this to her advantage.

But in the end, it is the Tsar who will declare a winner, and he is stony and resolute. The Game will be played and an Imperial Enchanter will be appointed.

The Crown’s Game isn’t what it seems. It isn’t a bloodthirsty battle or a contest of egos or even wills. It’s, instead, a subtle and deep game that revolves entirely around the small cast and their feelings and relationships with one another. There are secrets and twists and revelations that, even if you cotton on a single page before the reveal, will make you go wide-eyed in surprise or clap about like a mad thing with glee (guilty—there might have been book-waggling/hugging). This book is a glorious feast for the senses, with delightful and extraordinary magic that exceeds both expectation and belief at every turn, making the reading of The Crown’s Game almost as exhilarating and wondrous as the Game played by Vika and Nikolai themselves.

The Crown’s Game is a stunning book with such heart and such strong characters, each in their own way. Vika is a fiery thing, whilst Nikolai has brooding, thoughtful edges. Pasha was a constant delight, even as he struggles to face up to the fact that one day he will be Tsar—and the realisation that his heart might be too soft for the role.

From the depth of the friendship between Pasha and Nikolai and the warmth of the relationship between Vika and Ludmila, this book is a pleasure to be immersed in, if only for the interactions between the characters and the way they shape and form the story. Yes, this is about magic and enchantments to make you beam with delight and gape with awe. Yes, this is about a deadly Game and a battle of wills. But it’s also so much more than that. The Crown’s Game is a story about discovery and about pushing the limits of who you are and how far you will go. It’s about finding just what it is that makes you, you, and a little bit of exploring the consequences of letting others make your decisions and sway your heart.

This book isn’t just set in historic Russia—it takes you there. You feel it in the streets, in the palaces, in the people who populate the world. From the mounting tensions of the lower and working classes, to the discomfort of those in the nobility who see the dangerous ground upon which the Tsardom treads, this is a book that really feels authentic. Which, given Skye’s love for Russia, isn’t a surprise at all. She nailed it.

At the end of the day, The Crown’s Game is about imagination and finding those little pieces of yourself in order to move one step closer to completing the puzzle of just who you are. It’s gorgeous, it’s exciting and it’s thrilling. It’s pure, pure magic.

 

 

The Prince of Lies, by Anne Lyle [Night’s Masque #3]

Title: The Prince of Lies (Night’s Masque #3)
Author: Anne Lyle
Publisher: Angry Robot
Publication date: 29th Oct – 7th Nov 2013 (US/UK)
Rating★ (ー△ー;)

ThePrinceOfLies-144dpiIn this final installment of Night’s Masque I’m not sure what I was hoping for, but I’m not entirely sure I got it. There’s nothing strictly wrong with Anne Lyle’s final book with Mal and Ned: it offers a satisfying end and therefore a good and solid end to the series. I’m just not sure it worked as well as it could have for me.

Things are coming to a head in London and the guisers are gaining power, getting closer to the throne. Mal has been given a Knighthood, Coby and he are married and are raising the young boy into which Kiiren has been reborn. But for now, Kit is just a child and Mal and his new wife are raising him as their own.

Despite thinking Olivia in the hands of Hennaq and being transported back to the New World, the contrary is true and the guiser is, secretly, heading back to London to plot her revenge on Mal. He had better be careful. Especially since Kit, too, is technically a guiser—albeit a young one—and he may prove to be a target if ever his memories show through.

Still, Mal is trying to be happy, adjusting to a life where Sandy has been returned to health, his new wife loves him with all her heart, and the death of Sir Francis Walsingham has left him with very little to do as a spy for the moment. Presently, Mal is attending court and doing all the things that a recently knighted man should be doing.

But nothing is really as perfect as it seems and memories from their time in Venice still haunt them, in particular Ned, whose metal hand is now a constant reminder and the reason his old profession was put paid to. Now he runs a print shop and tries to get by, whilst his lover, Gabriel (yay, #TeamGabriel) continues acting and trying his hand at playwriting—though he still prefers the former.

And Sandy isn’t really Sandy—and Mal knows it. Despite wanting his brother back and whole, Mal knows that as long as Sandy is Erishen, he will never be his brother. Then there’s the matter, of course, of the soul of Erishen that resides still within him. Sooner or later, the soul of the skrayling will need to be re-joined, whatever that might mean for the Catlyn twins.

Of course, there are more pressing matters at hand.

The guisers’ leader, Jathekkil, reincarnated into the body of young Prince Henry Tudor, is part of a plan set in motion far before Mal and his friends were ever involved. Though Mal might think that their enemies are young and weak and that now is the time to strike, he couldn’t be more wrong. The last renegade skraylings will not give up without a fight and with the barrier between the dream world and the waking world wearing thinner over time, victory is not assured.

In this last adventure, lives are in peril and for the first time, contacts and espionage will not save the day. With court life proving a challenge for Coby and tensions rising between her and Mal, several boats are being rocked, and one of them is the throne of England. The guisers want it—and it is now within reach.

The story takes place over a number of years and this somehow turned me off. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to how the time passed and this felt awkward and very unbalanced. In places the narrative seemed heavy and sometimes even irrelevant to the larger story, whilst relevant parts of the story were skimmed over so quickly as to be rendered unexciting.

I didn’t think I would end up saying this, but the finale of Lyle’s trilogy was bland and boring. I wanted to get excited, but just couldn’t. The new POV narrative of Kit bored me greatly and I desperately wanted to see more of Mal or Coby, or Ned or Gabriel. Anyone, really.

I felt the passage of time was handled inexpertly and I found it difficult to follow and this began to disinterest me. I appreciate what Lyle was trying to do, in making the final book far more reliant on intrigue and mystery and indeed, discovering who the remaining guisers are, but I feel the bar was set and never reached. I love intrigue and mystery and felt there was none. The Prince of Lies should have been a book where the reader sits glued to the page, following the team through the pages as they work to discover and eliminate the enemy, restricted by the false niceties of court and of moving below the guisers’ radar. It should have been thrilling and tense. Instead it was… not.

I got halfway through when I realised that I was, in fact, bored. I tried to pretend otherwise because I adore Lyle and I adore her work. But there’s only so much of the awkward march of time and lacking narrative that I could take.

However.

The prose is still true to the excellent standard I’ve come to expect and love from Lyle and her characters remain true to themselves. I did feel that some of the rapport was missing, however, and that made me sad. Part of why Mal and co. work so well is their rapport.

This isn’t a bad book, just somewhat disappointing. The writing is tight, the plot is tight and Lyle’s touch is still evident. It doesn’t lack heart.

Mostly I was frustrated by this book, because I was expecting the five-star excellence that I’ve come to love from the Night’s Masque trilogy. This is a good book, with the same characters I love and the same Elizabethan/Tudor (is it Tudor by the end?) setting that has Lyle’s personal touch. It is well-written and suggested a complex plot that wound through a web of secrets, lies and intrigue towards its goal. It did reach its goal and the ending is enormously satisfying, but the execution fell short of my expectations.

Generally disappointed, but still a solid fan of Anne Lyle. Desperately want news of more from her.

The Merchant of Dreams, by Anne Lyle [Night’s Masque #2]

  • TITLE: The Merchant of Dreams [Night’s Masque #2]
  • AUTHOR: Anne Lyle
  • PUBLISHER: Angry Robot Books
  • PUBLICATION DATE:  3rd January 2013 (UK paperback)

The Merchant of Dreams, by Anne Lyle—Night’s Masque #2—is an example of pure storytelling. Rich and well-paced, the second instalment of the series builds on the foundation of The Alchemist of Souls and completely avoids “middle-book syndrome” by becoming a solid middle point for the series, setting a high bar and allowing only for things to get better.

Often, what makes a book is a mixture of two elements, perfectly and chemically arranged on a page as suits the author’s style and tastes. Character and plot. If any one ingredient is lacking, or does not gel well enough, then the formula is ruined and the result will be subpar. When reading Lyle you never need to worry about the mixture being right—it always is. Lyle’s skill at writing character sets her apart in the genre and makes her work all the more approachable and identifiable.

In The Merchant of Dreams—helpfully hinted at by the gorgeous front cover and the play on Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice—the cast sets sail on Walsingham’s business to the Serene Republic; Venice. With the richness and wonder of Venice to play with, Lyle set out to really push the imagination and just what she could achieve with her characters and the setting provided. The result is a magical romp through a familiar Venice—with its canals and piazzas and masked parties—with all the tension and intrigue of intelligencers, skraylings and guisers, and secrets nestled between the Serene Republic’s soft bosom—secrets that she wants to keep close to her heart.

With Coby’s secret held by Mal, their relationship begins to blossom, awkwardly—though as long as they remain in England there can be no romance between them. On the contrary, Gabriel and Ned have settled into a routine of domestic and romantic normalcy that—mostly—serves to quell Ned’s resurfacing affections for his former lover, Mal, who, despite having freed his twin brother Sandy from Bedlam and having successfully uncovered the mysteries of his past, is as troubled as ever by recent revelations and events. And with Ambassador Kiiren gone from England and Sandy with him, Mal’s humour has been better.

When he is ordered to Venice to spy on the skraylings’ sought alliance with Venice, he takes Ned with him, giving Cody strict orders to take care of Sandy, whose return is a welcome surprise, yet one he cannot fully trust. Coby swears to Mal his brother will stay safe. No sooner has the promise been made, than Sandy and Erishen inside him, begin to cause trouble—trouble that forces Coby and Gabriel both from England. Before long, more ungodly trouble hounds Coby, with the appearance of more skraylings, whose betrayal comes at sea and threatens to take them all the way back to the New World. Coby is forced to lie and think quickly and eventually they find themselves following after Mal and heading to Venice.

Meanwhile Ned is hardly cut out for the life Mal has introduced him to, and though he is a dab hand on a ship, he soon tires of being away from Gabriel and being surrounded by men on a ship who take a dislike to his preferences. More danger abounds before they even reach the Serene Republic, and with Sir Walter Raleigh in tow and appearances on the up-and-up, Mal is struggling to get done what needs doing, without arousing suspicion regarding his own secret past. After attacks at sea, storms and pirates, being in Venice should be an easy game, but Mal discovers otherwise when he finds there is no access to the skraylings or Kiiren, and that Venice is ruled from the shadows by at least one guiser.

Under the cover of seeking his brother Charles, who is rumoured to be in Venice, Mal treads as lightly as he dares through the streets of Venice, which he finds are not as serene as the name implies.

The Merchant of Dreams is a complete success that invites you into a world of intrigue and danger, fencing and romance. The sexual tension between Ned and Mal is beautifully written and adds not only a depth to the relationship, but a streak of realism. Lyle successfully writes gay and bisexual characters as naturally as breathing, and it makes for a deeply enjoyable read. Gabriel and Ned are as enjoyable as Coby and Mal, Sandy and Kiiren.

In fact, the relationships between Lyle’s male characters take the book to another level for me. She writes homosexual characters and shoehorns nothing for any minority (perceived or otherwise)—she just happens to write Gabriel and Ned, who love each other and do the dirty, and Ned, who is Mal’s former lover, who happens to enjoy the womenfolk as well. It’s as simple as that and I appreciate seeing more than just a homosexual character there for decoration, or to be penned in on all sides by heteronormative characters. Never mind the mythological bisexual character, appearing, nowhere, ever!

It’s refreshing, and damn if I don’t enjoy reading about pretty Gabriel and brooding Mal. Coby, too, is a brilliant example of a cross-dressing heroine doing it more—by now—because she enjoys being Jacob Hendricks as well as Mina Hendricks. It raises fantastic questions about gender in a new way—and I love it.

In fact, I loved everything about The Merchant of Dreams: it is exciting, thrilling and Lyle’s gorgeous prose drives the story elegantly forwards towards a goal. Lyle is good at endings—not all writers are—and amidst the bittersweet closing chapters lie the seeds of a plot that could have some incredibly awesome consequences, should they be allowed to bloom. A fantastic example of historical fantasy going all the way and holding nothing back, The Merchant of Dreams is complex and exciting.

Gorgeous prose, stunning ability to weave a story, and likeable, moreish characters—Lyle is a winner. Read her.

5/5

(P.S. I am crushing on Coby.)

The King’s Bastard (King Rolen’s Kin #1), by Rowena Cory Daniells

Published in July 2010, the first instalment of The Chronicles of King Rolen’s King caught my eye thanks to the interesting blurb, and—if I’m honest—the dark style of art on the cover. Having read other novels supposedly rich in political intrigue and dangerous machinations that delivered as promised, yet lacked any characterisation whatsoever, I was expecting great things from this trilogy.

The first instalment of King Rolen’s Kin offers a deep insight into the royal family of Rolencia. Centred around the children of the present King Rolen—twins, Lence and Byren, the spare son, Fyn, and Rolen’s sole daughter, Piro—the novel sets the stage for what promises to be a ferociously witty, tense trilogy that will keep readers glued to the last word.

Introducing an interesting magic system, clever geographical divides and a devastating game of Kings, The King’s Bastard might not be what the author set out for (“a story people can enjoy on a Saturday afternoon after a long week”—RCD), but that doesn’t mean it’s not an excellent read. In fact, it’s too quick-paced, sharp and jam-packed with betrayal, family feuds, and life-shattering secrets to be as the author describes it.

Rolencia is cold, even as the cusp of seasons approaches; snow and ice make the necessary culling of stray Affinity beasts difficult, political relations hinge on the marriage of Lence Kingsheir, and when a Warlord fails to renew his oath of loyalty to King Rolen, the world turns colder.

A game of Duelling Kingdoms is afoot, and not the tricky board-game played by Piro Kingsdaughter and her mother when the thirteen-year-old manages to push aside her approaching womanly duties as she matures. Piro longs for the adventure and freedom her brothers—even Fyn—receive, and would gladly swap her place at the palace for something more than the role she’ll eventually receive from her mother; a glorified housewife. But the secret Piro holds close to her heart might force her away from Rolenhold against her will: Piro holds Affinity and by Rolencia law (her father’s law) anyone touched by the Affinity of the Gods, gifted in the use of magic, must away to the abbeys. But perhaps Piro’s blossoming Affinity is the least of her worries…especially when her mother keeps whispering about her future and marriage.

Affinity must run in the family, then, Fyn Kingson decides. Essentially stripped of any real royal duty—save his name, which in turn creates more problems than if he were an ordinary monk at Halcyon Abbey—Fyn was shipped off to the abbey as a boy. With a kind heart and not a cruel streak about him, Fyn must find a way of becoming a Mystic, so that his Kingsheir brother, Lence, will not expect him to become the abbey’s Weaponsmaster and aid him in battle and war. At least as a Mystic he’ll still have some use to Lence, he hopes. The likelihood seems slim, however, when Fyn’s Affinity barely registered on the scale when first tested.

Bryen Kingson—seven minutes younger than the Kingsheir, Lence—knows little of Affinity, but when he happens upon a renegade Power-Worker (one touched with Affinity, but untrained at either of the abbeys) who delivers a deft prophecy, he cannot wash the old woman’s words away. Her insidious words claim the impossible, although try as he might, Byren is haunted by them. Unable to consider the old seer a fraud after she heals his lifelong friend from a fatal head wound, Byren would brush her vision away, had she not ventured to his mother—and unbeknownst to him, his brother Fyn, too—and spoke similarly penetrating words to the Queen of Rolencia.

With an increasing amount of Affinity seeps and Affinity beasts such as Manticores and Leogryfs prowling them, edging closer to the surrounding villages than comfort allows, danger leaves its mark in the Rolencian snows. Byren and his brother assist where they can, but with Byren outdoing Lence at every turn with seemingly no effort, should Byren really be surprised that his twin becomes locked in a tight friendship with their recently acknowledged bastard cousin, who does nothing but acknowledge his supremacy as Kingsheir? Desperate to disprove the old seer’s dying prophecy, Byren strives to bridge the sudden rift between them. With his own name hailed louder—“Byren Leogryfslayer!”—and those who would see him take his father’s throne, he has his work cut out—more so, given their cousin’s insidious tongue and sudden appearance in Rolencia.

Darker shadows stalk Fyn’s footsteps at the Abbey, with a game of power unfolding before his very eyes; a game in which he is the prized piece, despite his obliviousness to it thus far. Threats are issued, strong accusations seek to see him severely reprimanded, and vicious bullies move against him merely for being “Kingson”. Little does Fyn know, however dark his days at the Abbey may appear, that he should keep his friends close and his nerves steeled, for a deeper shadow is due to settle across his life at the Abbey, a shadow he knows he is barely equipped to fight.

Fresh in King Rolen’s mind is the betrayal of the Servants of Palos; lovers of men. Imagine Byren’s horror to find his friend to be one—a lover of men. With his friend disinherited by his father, and afraid of his own father’s reaction having been implicated as his friend’s lover somehow, Byren vows to protect his friend’s secret—but at what cost? The Kingson knows his father cannot separate “lover of men”, from “Servant of Palos”.

Whilst the inclusion of homosexuality is increasingly relevant, it seems in this instance to be only vaguely considered and barely thought-out. The relevancy of having been a Servant of Palos, and being homosexual is actually never discussed, and the reader is to simply accept that all followers of Palos were gay, and that all gay men are (considered) followers of this secret society steeped in betrayal. Of course, this is merely conveying the view of the culture, and can be accepted.

What further lets Daniells’ attempt at a very relevant theme down, is her characters’ reactions to it: whilst it is acceptable that Lence—the ‘headstrong’ twin—would be blinkered in his views, taking into account the character she has built for Byren, the younger twin would not be as judgemental in his views as he ends up being. Although Byren does accept that his friend is not a Servant of Palos, and merely prefers men, his behaviour swings from normal, to suspicious, to awkward. Acting as though he is in constant ‘danger’ from his friends’ (nonexistent) advances, whilst commenting in an offhand fashion that homosexuality amongst women is normal because “women are lovely”, degrades Byren’s whole intelligence and character. Byren is smarter than that, and he deserves to have been portrayed to the best of his wit and intelligence throughout.

Finally, the notion that homosexuality is wrong from a religious (or moral, or cultural) viewpoint—like Mark Charan Newton’s Legends of the Red Sun series—is a concept readers can grasp; it makes sense. To mark homosexuality (only for men) as wrongdoing, and linking it to a treacherous secret society in one country (it is not “illegal” in other countries in the novel) seems clumsy and pointless. Worse; it seems like an awkward plot device, as many occurrences revolve around Orrade’s homosexuality, and Byren’s desperation to conceal it, without incriminating himself.

At times during The King’s Bastard the plot speeds along so gracefully, so quickly that as the reader, there is a tangible tension; the expectation that something is going to crack is constant. This is a good thing. The plot is so well-paced, so full of subtle and poisonous machinations that the reader grows a little nervous at times, waiting for events to turn ill. Danger descends so swiftly and silently, that even the sleepier, relaxed scenes become filled with tension: this keeps the book interesting and pulls the reader along with every page. Seeing the story from three character’s viewpoints serves only to speed up the narrative and make the action come fast and quick, rather than trickling by. Although the first half of the book isn’t as gripping as the latter half, there is something to be said for the slower start; it settles the reader, welcomes them to this new world where Affinity is magic, King Rolen holds the throne, and war could be brewing. The pace of the latter half of The King’s Bastard varies from break-neck fast, to agonisingly controlled; Daniells’ draws out tension in all the right places, but ensures fights and action are as deft and sharp as a blade.

Why should I read this book?

The King’s Bastard is a tense book of political and—better yet—royal intrigue. It’s a game of Duelling Kingdoms played out on a real-life board, with people, loyalties and crowns at stake. The story of a king’s sons and daughter striking out on their own in whatever ways they must, the first in the trilogy introduces three amazingly addictive, likeable characters who carry the story forward effortlessly. It is a story of magic and illegal magic, friendship and betrayal, and the dangerous game of power. Full of misguided hearts, fiercely loyal friends and simply seeing things through someone else’s eyes, The King’s Bastard is a book that at once gently raises philosophical issues of perspective, whilst telling a story of a family struggling to tread water.

4/5