Before I start, for posterity I want to say that I think I’ll always remember what I was doing on the day that Prince George was born: we buried my granddad. Sort of fitting that we said goodbye to someone old and then ushered in someone new. There we are.
Right. Book review time. I’m a great one for browsing in bookshops, buying something random that I like the sound of and then squirreling it away on a shelf for years before reading it. I have two shelves in my room now dedicated to the unread books that I own, in the hopes of getting through some of them before I buy new ones (ha, not very likely). Last night I picked one to read while I sat around for two hours waiting for some live music (relying on trains in the Highlands to get you somewhere at a useful time is not advisable). I picked…
The King’s Bastard, by Rowena Cory Daniells.
Now, I bought this somewhen, and I went into it cold. No clue about reviews, sequels (though it does say BOOK ONE on the front so I know there are sequels), the author or anything. I ended up reading it until half one in the morning. If that isn’t recommendation enough, I guess I could tell you a little more about it.
It’s about Byren, the younger twin of Lence (the main issue I have with the book. Just call him Lance, ffs!), their siblings Piro and Fyn, and all the stuff that happens to them due to them being the children of King Rolen of Rolencia. It’s heartwarming to see some tried and tested fantasy tropes in action but they are well done and I am itching to read the next one. A few examples:
1. The heir is arrogant and a bit of a tool, but his younger brother is good with people and loved more than him, leading to major resentment that drives a lot of the plot.
2. A younger sister who is actually pretty intelligent and feisty but is treated like a child/brat because she doesn’t want to be a pretty princess and do all the elegant lady stuff so she gets in trouble all the time. And she’s a girl, so what does she know about ANYTHING? Eh? Women! *shakes head*
3. You’re GAY?!?!?! Unclean! Unclean!
4. “The neighbouring kingdom is pretty much the same as ours but clearly they’re all evil/barbarians/just plotting to take over.”
5. Magic/mystic power can make you crazy and is feared and forbidden.
6. More end of chapter cliffhangers than you can shake a stick at.
No.6 is partly why I was up so late. I could not wait to find out what happened next. There is a lot going on in this book but it doesn’t feel like it’s just setting up later plot arcs, nor does it feel like Daniells chucked in every twist she could think of. The characters are developed, if still a little constrained by their fantasy pigeonholes (“But I don’t want to be King!” wails Byren over and over again in response to a. people telling him how much better he’d be than his older brother and b. his older brother accusing him of a conspiracy to take the throne) and with a major upset in progress at the end of the book it’ll be interesting to see how they develop further though I think I could put money on a few of them.
What I quite like about this book is that Daniells doesn’t info dump. She leads the reader using context clues and drip feeding information, but without pages of clunky “minor character represents the reader and asks a stupid question to elicit expositional dialogue”. At the very beginning for example, the characters are tracking a magical animal called a lincis, an Affinity beast, and we are told no more at that point about what either of those things are. If you’ve ever read a decent fantasy book in your life you can make a fairly good guess, and if you said “something probably similar to a lynx” and “part of, or the name of, the magic/religious system” you’d be right! Daniells’ characters discuss these things as though they know what they are. Of course they do; they’re in their own world and we’ve just joined them in the middle of something. The action unfolds and we learn some new words: a seep, Warders, Untamed Affinity (probably bad), renegade Power-worker… but no wet-behind-the-ears recruit asks about them, or wonders about them, or anything. We just get carried along and are allowed to work it out for ourselves.
There are spies and traitors, political marriages and religious ceremonies, laws and historical prejudices and a king not totally unlike Robert Baratheon in his bluff, shouty, quick to anger but also quick to call for wine, my-way-or-the-highway, I AM THE KING! moments. Power plays and layers of lies and betrayals. Even towards the end when a lot of the machinations are explained, I’m not sure I believe that they’re telling the truth. I came away with a “well, no one actually saw that body, so they could be alive…” coupled with an “If X had just told Y about such and such, they could have…” which is great. I’m intrigued by the next ones. Trying to stop myself buying them RIGHT NOW because I have a ton of stuff to do. I need to dangle them as a reward for when I’ve done useful things.
I wouldn’t say this book/series really breaks the mould but it’s worth reading for a solid fantasy world with a plot to get your teeth into. It’s more intelligent than a sword-and-sorcery, with a bit of political complexity and characters to cheer and boo along the way.