Goodreads: Royal Bastards
Series: Royal Bastards #1
Published: 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 . . .
Royal Bastards starts off with a fabulous premise: a group of unwanted (well, bastard) teenagers accidentally witness their parents committing a terrible crime and then get framed for the deed. Only by avoiding the death sentences placed on their heads and revealing the truth to the kingdom can they hope to prevent a violent civil war. The first half of the novel focuses on this and on the character development of the main group the story follows, and it’s really strong YA fantasy. The second half of the novel, unfortunately, unravels much of this good work, making the book overall a disappointment for me.
As I began Royal Bastards, I had high hopes. In some ways it reminded me of typical YA fantasy (the genre is starting to have a distinctive feel that I wish it would break away from), but it offered enough originality that I was hooked. Our protagonist has a distinctive voice (she’s rather fond of cursing), and the plot was fast-paced and gripping. And though “people on the run from bad guys” isn’t necessarily an original plot, the focus on the group of bastards is pretty unusual.
Unfortunately, the book ends up with two main flaws. First, it veers away from the dramatic “save our lives and the kingdom” plot and devolves into an awkward love triangle. I felt no chemistry from any combination of these characters, personally, and I really didn’t get why we were so fixated on teenage romance at what should have been really key points of the plot. You know, if we’re interested in saving the kingdom and all that. Secondly, the author destroys a lot of the characterization he established in the first half of the book to get some cheap thrills. Apparently it doesn’t matter if people’s motivations no longer make sense, as long as the outcome is dramatic.
I wanted to like this, and I did for a decent portion of the story. Then it all fell apart. I can’t express how disappointed I ended up. I was confused by some of the lower Goodreads ratings when I began reading the book; now I understand. I am not interested in reading the sequel, which will be a hard pass for me.