Based loosely on an Arabic folktale called The False Prince, this stand-alone book centers on the kingdom of Akram—with interwoven references to the kingdoms and characters from The Shadow Queen and The Wish Granter. Redwine’s prose shows notable development in this 3rd installment of her retold fairytale series. The Traitor Prince offers three 3rd person POVs, and a primarily male POV for the first 4th of the book—which is a structural departure from the more evenly alternating POVs of her previous works. But like her previous books there is an underlying theme of redemption, and of broken people finding healing in unexpected places.
“Fear in. Courage out.”
Javan is an overachieving honor-bound prince, who’s dedication to his mother’s dying wish has made him a perpetual stick-in-the-mud at the boarding school he’s been attending for the last decade of his young life. He’s naive and idealistic to a fault—and so unprepared when the conniving of others results in the loss of his identity and freedom. Unfortunately for him, the learning curve in Maqbara prison is incredibly steep—and being a quick study isn’t enough to insure his survival in their gladiator-style arena. He’ll need to secure trustworthy friends and allies. A skill he -hadn’t- been focusing on in school…
Sajda is, hands down, my favorite of Redwine’s heroines thus far. She’s steely, fierce, crafty, competent, and intensely powerful. She’s also deeply wounded, lonely, and afraid of her own nature. An abused young woman who hasn’t known freedom since her own mother sold her into slavery when she was five years old. Though her POV doesn’t enter until around page 90, she ends up being the character who shows the greatest degree of growth and development.
For those who prefer a slow burn romance, the progression in this story is pleasingly gradual. And it starts from a dismally low place of aggravation-at-first-sight. The eventual chemistry is very much believable—both sparked and fueled by a mutual competitiveness and unfaltering respect. Survival takes reasonable precedence well above relational progression, but after a certain point, also drives the tension.
As for the worldbuilding, I would have liked to see a little more explanation concerning the Dark Elves and their apparent history of oppressing humanity. I also would have preferred to know more about The Warden’s relationship with the people of Akram. Her nature seems to be openly known, but we aren’t told how she came to reside outside of her own people or how common it is for this to occur. The audacious hypocrisy in her treatment and regard for Sajda was something I kept expecting someone to point out. (i.e. every time she referred to Sajda as a monster, I had the urge to laugh hysterically.)
“Power is neither good nor evil. … It's what people do with power that matters.”
There were actually four prominent villains in this book: The Warden, a prisoner named Hashim, Rahim (the imposter prince)… and the one who conceived of putting him in power (who I won’t name out of spoiler concerns.) But of these villains, we are only given Rahim’s perspective—which is cunningly determined, but single-minded. His motives seem too simplistic at times. Yes, he grew up in obscure poverty as the bastard son of a royal… but surly that wasn’t enough to make him turn evil. (Ari, from the previous Ravenspire book, actually came from a similar background. And she is, frankly, delightful.) Rahim doesn’t seem to consider the mother he left behind when he began his schemes—nor is he at all interested in any justice on her behalf—so perhaps her influence on him was negative. Readers simply aren’t provided with that depth of insight.
This story does include an enriching faith element—which is incredibly rare to find in mainstream YA. While Javan’s belief system isn’t explained in great detail, the significance and motivation it holds for him is portrayed with an unmistakable air of authenticity. It even has its own arc, as Javan must wrestle with his beliefs about justice and the nature of his god while he endures a grave injustice—his prayers seemingly going unanswered.
All told, an enjoyable read with a lot of heart.