The King’s Bastard is a novel I’d been looking forward to since the day I learned of it a few months back. The first entry in The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin a new series from an author previously unknown to me, Rowena Cory Daniells since the Australian writer has written only one other trilogy, a while back, as just Cory Daniells. Playing on the family tensions, forbidden magic and plenty of intrigue, this and its sequels promises to be one heck of a trilogy. It’s no perfect novel, but its strengths far outdo its flaws, making this a splendid novel, one well worth giving a try.
Only seven minutes younger than Rolencia’s heir, Byren has never hungered for the throne. He laughs when a seer predicts that he will kill his twin. Bu the royal heir resents Byren’s growing popularity. Across the land the untamed magic of the gods wells up out of the earth’s heart. It sends exotic creatures to stalk the winter nights and twists men’s minds, granting them terrible visions. Those so touched are sent to the Abbey to control their gifts, or die. At King Rolen’s court enemies plot to take his throne, even as secrets within his own household threaten to tear his family apart.
This King’s Bastard is a book that centers on the intrigue surrounding, and making up, a family. Of course, it’s a whole lot more interesting when this family is the royal family. But let’s face it, with a series title like The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin, a story about a king and his family was a given. In this sector Rowena Cory Daniells excels crafting generous amounts of drama, with betrayals, twisted love stories and deaths, and smart, virulent intrigue that is ever surprising and captivating. Daniells, though, doesn’t leave it at that. Wonderfully, she almost continuously hints at greater things, larger plots, deeper concerns, etc. even if up to now the story has mostly hinged on the inner politics and less on the exterior. Magic plays a central role in all this but does so in subtle and unexpected ways that only thicken the intrigue further. Daniells’ also built an interesting world - not too large yet enough to hold interest and keep some things unexplored. This world is filled with creatures who, for the most part, served as believably dangerous and terrifying beasts, though we could have done without the (slightly) modified unicorn that is somehow one of the scariest animals in this world.
There are some dark things happening in Rolencia and Daniells makes us feel it in her prose and her choice of setting, winter - an always gloomier environment than any other season. Daniells’ style is appropriate and strong at all times, be it during scenes of action, intrigue, celebrations, travel or otherwise. The largest fault I can point at is one of pacing. After some initial tension due to action, the overall tension of the story lets down for a large part of the novel. Then, thankfully, it picks up moderately before rising to almost unbearable levels as the finally unrolls with flourish and The King’s Bastard comes to and end. The tensional lag in the forward end of the book is offered some redemption, as some elements presented during this time do set things up for later, but I’m sure there could have been better ways to include them.
As I mentioned before, these are The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin, so it follows that the main characters are going to be some of King Rolen’s kin, in this case, some of his children. Byren is the first of them we meet and his twin brother is the heir to the throne. He is the one that doesn’t particularly want to be praised but is because he invariably cannot go wrong in his actions. He’s singlehandedly slaying crazy beasts, mending crucial political relations or is trying to solve most of his family’s problem. But he’s also the guy that gets all the crap. Then there is his brother, Fyn, who’s been sent to an abbey to control his magic. In this book he gets his own whole story, but a lot of it, for me, deterred from what else was going on. There were important and interesting instants, but on the whole it distracted somewhat from the main plot-line - I can only hope that it will play out better in the next two novels. Lastly, there is Piro, youngest child and only daughter to the king. Her story fits in between Byren and Fyn and she helps tie the two stories together. All three of these characters grow on you quickly, and deserve to be read.
The King’s Bastard is a strong start to a new trilogy. I found this a great introduction to Rowena Cory Daniells’ work, of which I’d never heard of before. This intrigue-heavy novel is one I can only recommend. In general, I am a fan of cliffhangers and The King’s Bastard ends with a large one. Thankfully, we only have to wait until the end of the month to get the second novel, The Uncrowned King, and two months for the final volume, The Usurper. Look for my reviews of those as the novels are published...
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Reading Age: 15 and up
Rowena Cory Daniells' Website: http://www.corydaniells.com/
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