YA Weekend: City of Bastards by Andrew Shvarts
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Book 2 of Royal Bastards
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (June 5, 2018)
Length: 320 pages
Have you ever finished a book and thought to yourself, “Wow…I didn’t expect THAT?” City of Bastards made me feel like this for two reasons. First, there was the ending, because damn, I just couldn’t believe the author actually went there. And second, I didn’t think I was going to like this one as much as the first book, given how certain events at the end of Royal Bastards have led to a different cast makeup and a slight change in direction for the series. Clearly I was wrong, because ultimately I ended up liking this sequel every bit as much as its predecessor—maybe even more so.
This probably goes without saying, but you may want to skip reviews of this book if you aren’t caught up with the series yet. Spoilers for the first book are possible, and even likely, because City of Bastards picks up almost immediately from the point where Royal Bastards left off. Tilla, the illegitimate daughter of Lord Kent, has finally made it to the city of Lightspire with her companions, saving Princess Lyriana Volaris from assassination by bringing her home. But now, the king is left with a conundrum. While Tilla and Zell may have rescued his daughter, as the offspring of his greatest enemies—who are even now leading a growing rebellion in the west to try and topple his rule—they cannot be trusted to leave or to roam free. Thus, a plan is made for Tilla to enroll in the University, where she will be given shelter, safety, and a chance to learn about the history of Lightspire and the Volaris reign. Zell, on the other hand, will join the City Watch, putting his fighting skills to good use.
None of them could have hoped for a better arrangement. Finally, Tilla has everything she’s ever dreamed of: a life of luxury, the friendship of a princess, and a gorgeous boyfriend who loves her. But instead of being happy, Tilla is haunted by the past—all the deaths, betrayals, and, of course, her traitorous father, whose shadow is constantly hanging over her head. She’s treated as an outsider with few friends at the University, and then one day, one of those friends ends up dead. Although the authorities are quick to rule the death a suicide, Tilla doesn’t believe it. In the days leading up to the tragedy, she has been noticing a mysterious shrouded figure stalking her in the streets, and everything comes to a head as Tilla herself is targeted by an attacker whose existence shouldn’t be possible. Now even her closest friends have doubts that what she saw was real, and yet, Tilla still can’t bring herself to let her investigations go. The more she digs, the more she’s convinced she’s getting to the bottom of a greater conspiracy.
City of Bastards was such a fun ride, but as I alluded to earlier, I didn’t think this would be the case when I first started. Part of the reason for this is the beginning of the book, which was a far cry from the energy and excitement that filled the pages of Royal Bastards. The first book threw readers into an action-filled adventure almost as soon as it began, while in contrast, this sequel opened with a sense of hopelessness and melancholy as our characters grieved for those they’ve lost along the way. The story then shifts to a university setting, but instead of being shown the new things Tilla learns in her classes, we get to read about the way she and her friends are languishing their days away at posh parties, hooking up and getting wasted. I get it—losing Jax and Miles hit them all hard, but surely they could have found a more original and less irritating outlet for their anguish, especially since as a reader, I was champing at the bit to see more of the city.
Things also didn’t feel quite the same, with the main group missing two of its original five members. The void could be felt almost right away, with the lack of lively banter and interactions I’d come to love when Tilla, Lyriana, Jax, Miles, and Zell were all still together. A couple new characters were introduced, but I wasn’t sure if they would make suitable replacements, if the author had intended them to fill the shoes of the departed.
Around the quarter mark though, everything changed. Once I reached this point, it didn’t matter how quickly I was reading, it simply didn’t feel fast enough. I wanted badly to find out what was going on, yet the plot just kept teasing me with bigger and crazier twists and turns. The story continued to build until it reached its climax, and the aforementioned ending which left me reeling. In fact, a part of me is still in shock that the series has taken such a drastic turn. That’s the thing about these books—it’s easy to be fooled by the humor and slangy, contemporary language into thinking you’re in for a light and fluffy YA fantasy, then out of the blue the author will sucker-punch you in the gut with a sudden violent and traumatic event. After all, it’s easy to let your guard down when you’re having this much fun, but I just have to keep reminding myself that the world of these books can get downright nasty and brutal.
All in all, I’m quite impressed with the way this series is turning out. Even though City of Bastards had a drawn-out beginning and was slower to take off, the time it took to lay down the groundwork ultimately proved worthwhile, and somewhere along the way, the newer characters also started growing on me. Things have certainly changed a lot since Royal Bastards, and while I was initially skeptical, I feel now that this sequel has surpassed the first one in many ways. I’m really looking forward to what’s coming next.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Royal Bastards (Book 1)