Royal Bastards: Being a bastard blows (apparently)

Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts fantasy book reviewsRoyal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts fantasy book reviewsRoyal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

Royal Bastards (2017) marks the newest addition to YA epic fantasy — a genre that seems to be having a bit of a moment. We meet Tilla, our plucky young heroine and bastard to the Lord Kent, and her half-brother Jax, swigging wine on the palace roof and watching the arrival of the visiting Princess Lyriana. Despite their royal blood, the bastards are worlds apart from the legitimate royals, though all that may be about to change…

A great feast marks the welcome for Princess Lyriana, but she shocks Tilla and her fellow bastards by sitting at their table, instead of with the highborns. That night, Tilla leads Lyriana and her fellow bastards on an evening escapade, but they find themselves witnessing a crime and a plan to start another Great War. Now Tilla and the bastards must run, taking Lyriana with them to protect the future queen of the kingdom.

Sequel

One thing Andrew Shvarts makes sure of is that the plot zips along nicely, and this is perhaps the book’s greatest strength. Once the crew embark on their journey, the action rarely lets up and they leap from one near miss to the next. What’s more, the graphic violence, whilst sometimes a little jarring, will certainly keep those pages turning. Whilst it does feel a little like Shvarts has cherry-picked characteristics of all the recent blockbuster series (Game of Thrones-inspired gore and John Green-style angst), these tropes are popular for a reason and as long as readers aren’t yanked out of the story, they’ll prove successful.

One thing certain to divide readers is Tilla’s voice. Whilst set in a medieval-style fantasy world, Tilla speaks like your average 21st century teenager. Her speech is littered with awesomes and she even imagines a hot guy’s abs. Whilst a distinctive first person voice is certainly one of the defining traits of contemporary YA, readers might feel that it doesn’t really have a place here in an epic fantasy. It’s certainly clear what Shvarts was trying to do, but he may have alienated more readers than he got on board. All we need to do is look to Patrick RothfussThe Name of the Wind to see that an epic-style first person voice can be just as engaging as your preppy contemporary teen.

With a strong supporting cast and a plot that’ll drag readers to the finish, Royal Bastards is sure to delight YA readers. Despite Shvarts trying to rustle up a recipe from ingredients that don’t quite go together, if readers remain open-minded, they’re sure to be hankering for the next installment.

Publication date: May 30, 2017. 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 . . .Includes an exclusive Q&A with Andrew Shvarts, author and a designer/writer on the hit mobile game Choices: Stories You Play!

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RACHAEL "RAY" MCKENZIE, with us since December 2014, was weaned onto fantasy from a young age. She grew up watching Studio Ghibli movies and devoured C.S. Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA not long after that (it was a great edition as well -- a humongous picture-filled volume). She then moved on to the likes of Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy and adored The Hobbit (this one she had on cassette -- those were the days). A couple of decades on, she is still a firm believer that YA and fantasy for children can be just as relevant and didactic as adult fantasy. Her firm favourites are the British greats: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, and she’s recently discovered Ben Aaronovitch too. Her tastes generally lean towards Urban Fantasy but basically anything with compelling characters has her vote.

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