YA Weekend: Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Book 1 of Royal Bastards
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (May 30, 2017)
Length: 352 pages
This book was a ridiculously entertaining read, putting me in mind of Marvel’s Runaways set in a fantasy world that is rife with Game of Thrones vibes. Characters tragic and comic, heroic and despicable all live within these pages, including beautiful princesses, warring kings, powerful mages, and of course, royal bastards.
As the daughter of Lord Kent of the Western Province and a Castle Waverly servant, sixteen-year-old Tillandra has always lived in a world of in-betweens. While common born and not his legitimate heir, Tilla was nonetheless loved by her father, who filled her childhood days with rides over the fields or to the forest, teaching and showing her amazing things. But ever since Lord Kent got married in a political alliance, that all changed. Once his new wife gave him trueborn children, his time spent with Tilla gradually dwindled to the point where he now barely gives her any attention at all. Tilla instead spends her day with her half-brother Jax, hanging out at the stables and drinking with the servants, though in her heart she still secretly dreams of the day her father will notice her again and perhaps even legitimize her as a trueborn Kent.
When the book opens, everything at the castle is abuzz with activity as preparations are made for the feast in honor of the visiting princess of Noveris from the ruling Volaris Dynasty. Although Tilla is invited to attend, her place in the great hall is with the castle’s other outcasts which includes Miles, an illegitimate son of House Hampstedt, as well as Zell, a Zitochi from the north who has been disowned by his warchief father. When Princess Lyriana makes her appearance though, she is nothing like any of them imagined. First, she shocks everyone by choosing to sit with Tilla and the others at the “Bastards’ Table”, and before long, she has convinced them to sneak her out of the castle after the feast to show her Castle Waverly’s beaches. However, what might have started out as an innocent late night excursion quickly turns into a nightmare as Tilla, Jax, Miles, Zell and Lyriana stumble upon a scene they were never meant to witness. Now their own parents have put a price on their heads, and the group is forced to go on the run to protect the princess and deliver back to her people. If they succeed, they’ll be able to clear their names, expose a vast conspiracy, and stop a war. But if they fail, it could spell the end of more than just their lives.
Royal Bastards was an interesting book—uncomplicated to be sure, and also unabashedly trope-filled. The writing style also has a simplistic tone and uses modern language, which initially made me think this might be a Middle Grade novel, until the swearing, violence, and sexual innuendoes quickly disabused me of that notion. For all that though, I found the author’s straightforward approach refreshing. What you see is what you get, with little attempt to be subversive or break the mold. I got the sense that Shvarts was just trying to tell a fun story about characters that he genuinely cared about, and in turn I was captivated by this book’s carefree aura, willing to be swept into whatever adventure awaits.
I’m happy to report the results were pleasantly and surprisingly positive. Sure, the characters are all textbook YA—the plucky heroine who yearns for parental approval, the broody warrior who’s always surly because “no one understands me!”, or the nerdy bookwork whom everyone dismisses until his knowledge saves all their lives, etc., etc., etc.—but happily, their individual charms more than make up for that. Despite the clichés, every single one of the Bastards had wormed their way into my heart, and by the end of the book I found myself invested in the outcome of their fates. Every triumph filled me with celebratory cheer while every loss and betrayal made me fume and rage inside. I very much cared about what happened to these characters, which made this one an easy read. Together with the fast pace of the plot, I just flew through this book.
I probably enjoyed Royal Bastards more than I should have. But books like this prove you don’t have to reinvent the genre to be successful; sometimes familiar ideas work just fine when you combine them with a story that’s fun to its very core (though you should still brace yourself for some eventual tensions and heartbreak) and characters who have great chemistry and infectious personalities. There are several major twists, a couple of which I coming a mile away, but that didn’t stop me from having a blast. If all this sounds good to you, I highly recommend giving this book a try. Personally, I can’t wait for the next installment in this planned trilogy.