YA Weekend: The Stolen Kingdom by Jillian Boehme
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: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tor Teen (March 2, 2021)
Length: 320 pages
What I didn’t realize until after I finished The Stolen Kingdom, is that I’d actually read another book by Jillian Boehme, Stormrise. Looking back at my review of it, it appears I found the story enjoyable enough but…well, forgettable. Ultimately, I think this was the problem here as well.
In the kingdom of Perin Faye, magic belongs to the crown, and long ago the royal Thungrave Kings made a pact with dark powers that has now caused widespread suffering throughout the once prosperous land. The hard times have also led to unrest and murmurings of rebellion among the people. Maralyth Graylaern, the daughter of a humble vintner, has had to work longer and harder ever since the death of her mother, and even though their wines are famous for their quality, the family always seem to be struggling to make enough money to keep their business running. Of course, it also doesn’t help that most of their profits go towards paying the king’s exorbitant taxes.
However, Maralyth has a secret. As a child, she discovered she had a magical ability to control the growth of plants, which she has since used to ripen the vineyard’s grapes for years despite being warned by her mother never to reveal her powers. Eventually, she gets found out, precipitating her abduction by a nobleman who recognizes the significance of her magic. Apparently, it is a sign that Maralyth is descended from the Dallowyn bloodline, who are the legitimate rulers to the throne, making her the rightful heir. To install her as queen, they must help her infiltrate the court so that she can get close enough to assassinate the current royal family and seize power.
What Maralyth didn’t expect though, was Alac Thungrave, the king’s second son and reluctant prince. Unlike his father and older brother, he has no desire to rule, and does not much care for using magic. He is immediately drawn to Maralyth, who has disguised herself as the ward of a visiting noble. Not surprisingly, the feeling is mutual, though it does complicate Maralyth’s plans as the attraction between them deepens.
There are good ideas in this book. Readers who enjoy fantasy plots involving power struggles and court intrigue will feel right at home, and for extra drama, there’s also a hearty helping of forbidden romance. But for all that, the story feels rather bland, and I think one reason for this is the author’s reluctance to test the limits or push the envelope of YA fantasy. While the concepts present are solid, their execution left much to be desired. Nothing here really felt all that fresh or innovative, and I feel like I have read many books like it before.
The characterization was also mediocre, though I found both Maralyth and Alac likeable enough. However, they were also underdeveloped, and for me to feel invested in a romance, typically it would require a lot more personality and emotional depth. As such, while the conflicts driving each of them were intriguing and kept me reading, the chemistry between them just wasn’t there.
I felt similarly about the world-building. There were genuine flashes of awesomeness here and there, but it was very unbalanced. I liked the magic, the history, the political connections and the relationship ties, but it seemed Boehme would focus most of her attention on certain aspects and neglect to flesh out others, so the resulting experience was patchy and inconsistent.
Quite honestly, I don’t know what could have been done differently, though I often found myself wishing the author had gone further with her ideas. Perhaps that would have made the story more memorable, but as it is, The Stolen Kingdom will do in a pinch if you’re looking for a quick YA standalone fantasy. Still, even though the paint-by-numbers plot with its cursory romance was entertaining while it lasted, I have my doubts it will stay with me for very long.