Next up: “The Poison Throne”, “The Crowded Shadows”, and “The Rebel Prince” by Celine Kiernan.
Halfway billed as YA? It’s in the sort of middle-ground, I think.
Wynter and her father, the Protector Lord Lorcan Moorehawke, are returning home from representing the king to the neighboring land to the north. But the home they return to is very much changed from the one they remember. Danger and death lurk around every corner in King Jonathan’s court, and the king himself seems almost to have gone mad. He has slain the castle cats, forbid any contact with ghosts, and disowned his son and heir Prince Alberon.
Wynter, her childhood friend and heart’s-brother Prince Razi, and Razi’s friend Christopher find themselves in the eye of the storm brewing in their kingdom. There is some darkness festering in the court, some secret that means torture and death for any who might dare whisper it. If Wynter, Razi, and Christopher survive the intrigue, they might be able to prevent the fall of their once great kingdom.
These books have an odd sort of tone to them. It sort of feels, for a while, like you’re waiting for the true plot to kick in, but it’s a fake-out. From the very first page, all of the information you receive is very important to the plot, and every event that occurs is much deeper and impactful than it might first seem. The trilogy is a lot more like a single story that happened to be cut into three books; there is not a whole lot of explanation or resolution that takes place from book to book, at least until the very end. This can work against the trilogy, since the first book might seem like a lot of waffling about, but it sets up a lot for the reveals that occur in the third (and second, to a lesser extent) book.
It also has a sort of understated supernatural bend, with ghosts and talking cats and loup-garou. None of it is really explained or remarked upon, though from an off-hand comment in-book it seems as if not all cats can talk and the ones in this particular kingdom are special somehow? It’s not explained, as I said, which is mildly annoying. Why there are ghosts and what ghosts can do isn’t explained, and some conflicting information is given. Can they hurt the living? Can they not?
There is a lot to unpack in the story, however. There is a lot of political posturing, a lot of dark and nasty keeping of secrets. The first book introduces a lot of questions: What is the Bloody Machine? Why is King Jonathan acting so intensely paranoid and violent? What has happened to Prince Alberon? This is very much a story about intrigue and secrets.
It’s not a bad series, but I do think it has problems. Chiefly, I think it’s not sure whether it wants to be fiction or YA. We get some really dark violent things, and some obvious sexual innuendo, but then we get a very YA resolution epilogue. Like, okay, that’s nice and all, but are we going to talk about the really horrible things that just happened? No? Right, sorry. And the characters were often just so… obstinate, unnecessarily so. I wanted to shake them.
It also brought up some really big issues, like homosexuality and religion-based homophobia, and genocide and cultural superiority/suppression… and then never really dealt with them. Don’t open up those gigantic narrative doors and then hustle readers along like “and here’s where we keep our sociological problems, just keep walking, moving right along, nothing to see here.” They introduce huge conflicts into the story! You can’t just gloss over them!
Right, okay, I’m done. It might seem like I didn’t enjoy the trilogy, but I didn’t hate it. I was interested in the intrigue, and the hints of magic/supernatural carried me through the books. I do think it fell a little bit short of delivery, though.
Violent. Like woah. And some implied rape and abuse.