A dark epic fantasy inspired by The Prince and the Pauper and the fairy tale The False Prince, from bestselling author C.J. Redwine. A thrilling companion book in the Ravenspire series, The Traitor Prince is perfect for fans of A Court of Thorns and Roses series and The Wrath and the Dawn duology. Javan Najafai, crown prince of Akram, has spent the last ten years at an elite boarding school, far away from his kingdom. But his eagerly awaited return home is cut short when a mysterious impostor takes his place—and no one believes Javan is the true prince. After barely escaping the impostor’s assassins, Javan is thrown into Maqbara, the kingdom’s most dangerous prison. The only way to gain an audience with the king—and reveal Javan’s identity—is to fight in Maqbara’s yearly tournament. But winning is much harder than facing competitions at school, and soon Javan finds himself beset not just by the terrifying creatures in the arena but also by a band of prisoners allied against him, and even by the warden herself. The only person who can help him is Sajda, who has been enslaved by Maqbara’s warden since she was a child, and whose guarded demeanor and powerful right hook keep the prisoners in check. Working with Sajda might be the only way Javan can escape alive—but she has dangerous secrets. Together, Javan and Sajda have to outwit the vicious warden, outfight deadly creatures, and outlast the murderous prisoners intent on killing Javan. If they fail, they’ll be trapped in Maqbara for good—and the secret Sajda’s been hiding will bury them both.
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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.
With each addition to the Ravenspire world, I am newly stunned by the fresh takes Redwine spins on familiar tales. The story is a breathtaking combination of action, romance, and so much tension that I felt the urge to meditate several times, just to keep my heart rate regular. Though we see little of Akram’s kingdom, as Javan is locked in prison for much of the novel, Redwine never fails to craft a detailed and immerse setting, weaving in broader details of magical creatures and laws, as well as key minor details like the atmosphere of the prison. Readers will find no challenge playing out each scene in their head.
While I thoroughly enjoyed all the main character in this series, Javan and Sajda might be my favorite yet. Their romance, as is often with Redwine’s novels, is a perfect slow burn. Javan and Sajda are both grieving, hurt, and lost in different ways, but they slowly find a source of comfort and understanding in each other. Javan is a heartwarming mixture of kind, soft, and honorable, even as his circumstances worsen and worsen. Sajda is fierce, lonely, elegant, and unbelievably powerful. Together, they make a surprising but stunning team. I particularly appreciate how realistic their romance is, all the way through the end of the story. They never lose their individual identities and complexities, even as they grow closer.
Likewise, the villains are some of the darkest yet. Rahim, the imposter prince, is absolutely chilling, and he has what makes a villain so scary: an understandable motive. The Ravenspire novels are truly an embodiment of the idea that your choices are what define you rather than your circumstances. Though the warden’s origins aren’t as fully explored, as Rahim is the primary antagonist, she is just as compelling and frightening, both abusers of power and authority.
THE TRAITOR PRINCE showcases Redwine’s beloved staples, immense talent, in-depth characterization, and clever world-building. Fans of the Ravenspire books will not be disappointed, and new readers will have no trouble sinking into this fantasy world even without reading the previous companions. I impatiently await the next magical journey.
The third installment of the Ravenspire series was by far my favorite. There was evidence improvement in the writing, character development, and world building. There were elements of surprises that were not as present in the first book. Moments that made me gasp and sit at the edge of my seat wondering if a character is going to make it.
There were some parts I felt could have been slowed down a little but it did not inconvenience the story very much.