Royal Bastards: Review
Note: I received a free Advanced Reader's e-galley from the publisher for review.
I received an e-galley of Royal Bastards, by Andrew Shvarts, from Netgalley for review, and it's about time that I give it some love! This highly anticipated book was released on May 30th with some great coverage, like Entertainment Weekly’s “35 Most Anticipated YA Novels of 2017," Goodreads “Most Popular Books Published In May 2017,” and Bustle’s “The Most Anticipated Young Adult Debuts of 2017—From February to June.” I was promised something akin to Game of Thrones or Six of Crows, and I'm not sure that Royal Bastards met those expectations. However, it was still a fast-paced read, full of action. Read on to see if this is right for you!
Being a bastard blows. Tilla would know. Her father, Lord Kent of the Western Province, loved her as a child, but cast her aside as soon as he had trueborn children.
At sixteen, Tilla spends her days exploring long-forgotten tunnels beneath the castle with her stablehand half brother, Jax, and her nights drinking with the servants, passing out on Jax’s floor while her castle bedroom collects dust. Tilla secretly longs to sit by her father’s side, resplendent in a sparkling gown, enjoying feasts with the rest of the family. Instead, she sits with the other bastards, like Miles of House Hampstedt, an awkward scholar who’s been in love with Tilla since they were children.
Then, at a feast honoring the visiting princess Lyriana, the royal shocks everyone by choosing to sit at the Bastards’ Table. Before she knows it, Tilla is leading the sheltered princess on a late-night escapade. Along with Jax, Miles, and fellow bastard Zell, a Zitochi warrior from the north, they stumble upon a crime they were never meant to witness.
Rebellion is brewing in the west, and a brutal coup leaves Lyriana’s uncle, the Royal Archmagus, dead—with Lyriana next on the list. The group flees for their lives, relentlessly pursued by murderous mercenaries; their own parents have put a price on their heads to prevent the king and his powerful Royal Mages from discovering their treachery.
The bastards band together, realizing they alone have the power to prevent a civil war that will tear their kingdom apart—if they can warn the king in time. And if they can survive the journey . . .
If that felt like a really long summary... well, that's because it was, so thanks for making it through all of that! Royal Bastards had a promising premise- a book focused on the virtuous traits of bastard-born children as they navigate their way through court politics and discover their alliances. These are often the kids who are sidelined in other novels, the ones that are expendable. Of course I'd get excited for a book like this, especially with the success of our beloved bastard of the North, Jon Snow, making waves in Westeros.
Something about Royal Bastards felt short for me. Maybe it was how casual the spoken language was. Tilla and the other bastards would say things like "Hell yeah," and "No way." Pretty colloquial, for a setting that seems like a medieval fantasy, what with their fancy houses and lofty magic system.
The magic system. This was also very flawed for me. The mages in this world summon their power using various rings that they wear, each imbued with a Titan stone. Then a little further in, we learn that each ring grants certain powers, or perhaps it is the mage that is limited to certain powers? Either way, the magic system could use some serious explaining. Since our story is concentrated on our band of bastards, we don't get the opportunity to learn about the magic system, or the politics of the world, or the fractured history that causes rebellion to take root in the kingdoms. The magic system was just one plot point that exposed the weakness of the narrative and our narrator.
Tilla is our sixteen-year-old protagonist, and for the first few pages, I couldn't tell whether the narrator was male or female, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But it was an immediate indicator to me that she doesn't have a clear voice, or purpose, in this journey. And by the end of the story, I felt like Tilla's character didn't grow, which is always so important for me when it comes to younger protagonists. I'm obviously not going to say why I don't think she didn't grow because of spoilers, but I just wasn't satisfied by how she, and her relationships, panned out.
But for all of Tilla's shortcomings, I was captivated by some of the minor characters, like her half-brother, Jax, and the nerdy inventor Miles. I almost wish that we got a chance to see the story from their points of view, because they seemed to be so drastically different from Tilla.
Plus, there is a decent amount of action, and gratuitous violence a la Game of Thrones, if that's your thing. It's not all entirely believable, and rather cinematic in scale, but it's there, and it moves the story along. I personally found these to be the bright points in Shvarts' story.
All in all, if you like action and adventure told from a no-nonsense point of view, you may enjoy Royal Bastards. For me, the book seemed conflicted between its light dialogue and heavy action, and I couldn't get past how it compromised the setting.
I rate Royal Bastards 3/5 stars!