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 . . .
I am such a huge fan of fantasy and I really think Royal Bastards delivered on everything I love about that genre. I have read books very similar to Royal Bastards, but I am a sucker for these types of books so I knew going in I would enjoy it. Especially because a rag-tag team that becomes family, is definitely a trope I will go down with! Not to mention Tilla and Lyriana (the princess)! They were AHHHHMAZING! Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed each character but I loved these two the most. They are both such different characters, but so amazing in their own ways. And later on in the book with Lyriana WOW! Total BA! I also really loved Tilla and Lyriana’s friendship. I loved that they grew to be family and they took care of each other and protected each other. I am also a huge sucker for good female relationships! Plus they are both so freaking cool!
Another thing I really enjoyed was how much time was spent more on the characters than the world. Don't get me wrong I love world building and I think it's important but I felt like Andrew spent a lot of time fleshing out each character and really giving them a voice in this world, and I for one loved that direction. And despite only seeing from Tilla’s POV I really felt like I left the book knowing each of the characters better and I could see how much they loved each other. One thing I will mention is that this book does start out light but gets dark in a lot of places. For me I don’t mind blood or guts so I’m not sure how much would bother someone, but if it does bother you just be warned it is in this book quite a bit. That being said I think the balance between gory and funny was good, at least for me.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was fast paced, quick read that will keep you guessing until the end. Andrew Shvarts debut book is definitely one to check out. As of yet, they have not added any more to this series, but I am keeping my fingers crossed because I really really want to see how this story unfolds. Color me intrigued! Seriously though, if you love fantasy and daring escapes, you will really want to add this one to your list!
The novel follows Tilla, the bastard of Lord Kent of the Western Province, who witnesses a terrible crime and finds herself on the run with her half-brother Jax, a Zitochi warrior called Zell, Miles, the bastard of House Hampstedt, who’s been in love with her for years, and the Princess of Noveris, Lyriana. Pursued by mercenaries and Zell’s violent, psychopathic brother Razz, the group scours through the countryside attempting to find a place of safety and a way to protect the heir to the throne. As the group of bastards band together and grow closer, they realise that they alone are all that stands between the rise of a civil war that will tear the kingdom apart, and that they must find a way to warn the king. But first, they have to survive the journey.
Tilla was a fantastic protagonist and I enjoyed her character development. At the beginning of the novel, she was concerned only with gaining her father’s approval, but as the story progressed, she came to learn some hard truths about herself and her family. There were a few occasions of girl-on-girl hate, which irked me a little, but Tilla changed her ways and grew past that. Her wry character voice was the star of the novel for me, and there were many occasions I found myself laughing out loud at her thoughts and descriptions. Despite being a historical fantasy (and compared to Game of Thrones), the novel had a very modern tone and used a lot of 21st century idioms. It took a long while to wrap my head around this, but once I did, I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the novel.
There is a suggestion of a love triangle in the novel, but it was also very obvious as to who Tilla would eventually choose. The budding romance between the two characters was pulled off adequately; the tender slow burn was very sweet and not at all in the reader’s face, but there were still a few scenes where I just didn’t believe how quickly Tilla fell for her love interest. That being said, I look forward to watching the romance develop even further in the next novel in the series.
I absolutely adored Jax, Tilla’s half-brother. He was one of the funniest characters in the novel, and incredibly loyal to Tilla. Shvarts expertly developed the sibling relationship; Tilla and Jax’s love for each other felt very genuine and I’m so glad we have a YA novel that promotes such an affectionate relationship between a brother and sister.
Zell was the second funniest character, but not by purpose: as a Zitochi warrior, he didn’t comprehend many aspects of the Western culture and his confusion resulted in many laugh-out-loud moments. Zell also had a touchingly depressing background story that deeply touched me, and I thought he was a wonderful, complex character.
Lyriana was a sweet girl, but I didn’t begin to really like her until the last quarter of the book. Granted, she was only 15, but her character didn’t felt very developed – she was more like an overenthusiastic puppy. However, she does turn into quite the little badass and I appreciated her steadfastness and dedication to her new friends. I also really respected the fact that Lyriana is POC and that Shvarts continually brought this up. In fact, the rulers of the Kingdom of Noveris were all people of colour – great job, Shvarts! (Take note, other fantasy authors!)
Like Lyriana and Tilla, Miles went through intense character development: he was a sweet, if annoying, character at the beginning of the story, but through the weeks they spend on the road, he grows. He was a pretty bland character, but was still an integral part of the group of bastards, as well as the story.
While I had a few issues with the characters, the world-building was astounding and was explained with great detail and finesse. As I read an uncorrected galley proof, I really hope the final copy of the novel contains a map so readers can enjoy the novel in its entirety. I also really appreciated the fact that this was not a sexist culture: women could hold high offices and enjoyed a significant freedom of sexuality (at least in the West and Zitochi lands). Thank you so much for that Shvarts! (Again: take note, other YA fantasy authors).
The novel was also surprisingly dark; considering the humour and modern tone, I expected the book to be a light adventure read. Boy, was I wrong! The novel took a dark turn at the 20% mark, which definitely assisted in my enjoyment of the story. There’s political intrigue, magic, castles and Royal Houses, assassinations, and an incredibly complex history that spans hundreds of years. In this, Royal Bastards could definitely be compared to Game of Thrones.
Royal Bastards was a fast-paced and entertaining novel. While the fantasy elements were developed quite wonderfully, I would still classify it as light fantasy and easy to read, especially if you are new to this genre. Shvarts is definitely an author to watch out for – especially with his fantastic treatment of women and people of colour – and I would certainly recommend this novel. It didn’t blow me away like I thought it would, but Royal Bastards was still an enjoyable read.
ROYAL BASTARDS by Andrew Shvarts is a stand-alone teen epic fantasy, suitable for readers aged 16 and over due to graphic violence, alcohol consumption, and one sexual situation.
What in the frozen Hell did I just read?
I requested this title from NetGalley because I loved the cover. Didn't even bother reading the blurb, and honestly, if I had known I'd have an epic fantasy on my hands, I'd have steered clear, because high fantasy ALWAYS puts my brain to sleep, and I'd long ago given up my hunt for the unicorn of high fantasy--that one that can immediately suck me in and send my heart racing.
Well, turns out I found it! I'm glad I didn't skip this one--this is THE EPIC FANTASY written for impatient readers like me who love the movies but fall asleep reading LOTR. Dripping with adrenaline, ROYAL BASTARDS is just what the title and cover promise: an edgy, so-wrong-it's-right read.
Except for that first line "Being a bastard blows," the back cover blurb (now that I've read it) doesn't do this book justice. Tilla's the 16-year-old bastard daughter of a regional Lord, who pretty much ignores her now that he has a proper wife and three "legitimate" daughters. Why he hasn't disowned her and tossed her out on the street is the question that fixes hope in her heart--that her father will one day decide to legitimize her (give her his last name, let her eat at the family table, etc) and thereby save her from a life as a servant. But when Tilla and her beloved half-brother (also a bastard) witness her father kill a visiting Mage from the king's court (an act of war), it's game on. Tilla along with a band of other misfit bastards embark on a mission to deliver the visiting teenage princess safely back to her kingdom before her bloodthirsty father kills her (and Tilla, too).
Shvarts does so much so well. The opening pages immediately sucked me in, and while there were bits of backstory I skimmed, I felt pretty much glued to these characters and this plot. As far as world-building goes, Shvarts nails it. Nothing is over done, and everything weaves together beautifully, subtly, and--oh yeah--THRILLINGLY. There's a thread of subtle humor that offsets the sometimes over-the-top graphic violence (though the main character is a chick, it's clear a dude wrote this). Though I didn't actually laugh out loud, I did get a bit misty-eyed at the end, and I was a little angry with Shvarts for killing my favorite character. I think I might've actually blurted, "You bastard!" But that's the beauty of this book, it totally screws the rules of fair play. So, reader be warned: this is a fast-paced, violent book that skirts the edge of inappropriate in the best and most thrilling way!
Though it's marketed as YA, this book may be a little too edgy for readers under 16, as it depicts the 16-year-old main character drinking loads of alcohol, engaged in sex, and bashing in skulls in all the gory detail. ROYAL BASTARDS will appeal to fans of dark fairy tales, those who loved the LOTR movies, and anyone with a chip on their shoulder. I loved this book so much, I want to share it with a hardcover giveaway (scroll down).
ROYAL BASTARDS earns 4 North of Normal stars!