Rating: 3.5–4 stars out of 5
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I would recommend it easily. It was refreshing and had a different take on a royalty-style YA novel.
First off, I want to address the lower rating on Goodreads and why I feel that is. The description on the book gave me a different feeling and idea going in than I ended up with. It gives the feeling that there will be action and adventure, whereas there is mostly Freya’s journey to become a good Queen, learning who to trust, conducting experiments, and solving the mystery of who killed the whole court. Let me make this clear: I was not disappointed at all but led in a different direction than I thought. This book is labeled ‘fantasy’ because it is another world and in an older time than current, it seems, but I would recommend it to people who like:
- cute but awkward main characters with social anxiety
- people who would die for their cats
- yes Freya literally endangers her life for Dagny
- Female friendships!!
- slow burn relationships (because YES)
- it’s not heavily, it’s just in there and fun!
- political intrigue
- again, not heavy but a fair amount of the plot
The fantasy world was not built up enough to be called a whole “world.” We mostly only hear about one city of the Kingdom that Freya rules, though there are more that are mentioned. There is another series I’ve read with low world building, but I still loved it. So the world building is not the highest, but it really all depends on what you come to the book for.
One of the things I loved most is that Freya, the main character, has anxiety. It’s never explicitly said, but I could tell from chapter one or two. She gets nervous in the court with a hundred people there, she doesn’t like being in court at all, and would much rather be in her laboratory at home conducting experiments and learning. She grows anxious inside her dress of about ten actual layers and piled high hair that she hates, and leaves the room, best friend Naomi in tow. Once outside, Naomi helps calm her down and to breathe again, and Freya has a revelation about an experiment. The two go back to her laboratory and hours pass, then they get the news–the royal court has been poisoned and she, twenty-third in line for the throne, has just become Queen.
She is whisked away to the fort–the palace no longer deemed safe–and a coronation is held the next day. The mystery of who poisoned the cake and killed so many people hangs over her head. Was she meant to be Queen? Or was she meant to die, too, and another take the crown?
Freya is surrounded by advisers that tell her how to be the Queen that was before, not how to be her own version. Her father, who has always been ambitious of her to join court and take part in royal society–though her real dream was to travel to another continent and study there–is even on her list of suspects for who murdered the entire court. So her dreams of learning are crushed, her best friend’s brother killed, and she is thrust farther into the court than she had ever wanted to be.
First on her suspects is William Fitzroy, the King’s illegitimate son who was always falling in and out of his father’s favor. He becomes the love interest, and this romance is done differently than others I’ve seen, partly because Freya has anxiety and partly because of the question of who that lingers over their heads. Some people might not like how the ending is, but again, it all depends on what you come to the book for.
I have to say, reading a character who has anxiety and is science-minded when those around lean toward believing in the Forgotten gods and magic superstitions, was very refreshing and fun. She stumbles at the coronation, she stutters in her speeches, her heart races at others’ eyes on her, and yet she manages to be a great Queen. She embraces her crown and throne quickly–no nonsense of “but can’t someone else take it from me, I want to study science?”–not in a craving-power way, but in a resolved sense. It is now her right and duty and she will try her best to do well, and survive. Though she wants nothing more than to study science, and moves her laboratory into the fort to studying the cake and poison, she resigns herself to her reign.
With Fitzroy and her best friend Naomi, and another character I won’t reveal for spoilers, Freya searches for the answers to who killed the previous court, is she a target, and how to be the Queen her kingdom needs.
The previous court was wasteful, which is a theme throughout this book. Gems, gold, trinkets, everywhere; gold actually in the wines and cakes at the ball. Literally ten layers to the women’s’ dresses, hair formed high and in lavish designs on their heads. Freya hated it all before she became a real part of the court and she hated it even more afterward. She eventually finds her courage to speak up to her advisers and declare her own laws and make her own choices when it comes to the throne and her kingdom.
I really loved Freya and all she became. I would definitely recommend this book to someone who likes all that I mentioned above.
POSSIBLE SPOILER IF YOU’RE GOOD AT FIGURING THINGS OUT WITH HINTS:
The perpetrator of the attack was well conducted in this book. From near the beginning I suspected a person, then believed it to not be true in the middle because of their actions. When it finally came to be revealed at the end, I was surprised in a sense because we had come to like this person, to believe in their authenticity. And they were authentic and genuine and kind, they just also hated the waste of the previous court and planted a seed for the King to die, and unwillingly the rest of the court. And I had actually thought, “yeah, no it can’t be ____” not after all this. But BOOM it was. So that was a nice touch.
With these reviews I’d like to give recommendations. If you liked this one you’ll like __. If you liked ___ you’ll like this. But this particular book is unlike others that I’ve read, which I enjoyed. So here is a modified list of recommendations.
If you liked this, you’ll like:
- Defy (trilogy) by Sara B. Larson
- Low world-building in favor of more story/romance
- Graceling by Kristin Cashore
- Specifically Bitterblue, which is book three, but Graceling is AMAZING
- higher-level fantasy with a slower-burn romance and nice action and adventure. If you liked the feel of this but want something more, this is a great choice.
- To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
- If you’re looking for another fantasy standalone, this is one of the few. It’s beautiful and dark and amazing and I love it. (review to come!)
- Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
- Female friendships!!
- Beautiful world!