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 . . .
Description taken from Goodreads.
I have a theory. I may just try it until the end of the year and go into next year if it ends up working well. I’m not going to immediately go for books that have great premises, but rather stories that seem pretty middle-of-the-road upon first glance. After all, both the intriguing read and the seemingly mediocre read got a seat at the traditional publishing table. If it wasn’t the overarching idea behind the book, then (hopefully) it was the execution. Not perfect logic, but I need to try something different.
As you may have guessed, Royal Bastards in no way lived up to its potential.
Like with many of the books I was eagerly anticipating this year, I heard about this book way before it had a cover, hype, or official blurb, and even as late as a day ago, I had high expectations for it. It didn’t help that I recently read Maurene Goo’s A Believe in a Thing Called Love, which was very pleasantly surprising, and the disappointment and frustration is real now. There have been way too many incredibly promising stories this year that turned out to be nothing special, and unfortunately, this falls into that category.
The fundamental problem is that nothing is developed. Period, the end. The romance is instalove, takes the form of a badly lopsided love triangle, and makes up 50% of what miniscule plot is available. The other 50% can be summed up in one word: traveling. The ragtag band of bastards get together and traverse from place to place with little to no direction. It’s about as fun and compelling as spending four hours going through security at the airport (only to miss your flight) or waiting in lines at Disneyland (so you can go on a ride that lasts three minutes). Relief is offered in the form of half-baked dialogue, cardboard-cutout characters, and classic fantasy clichés.
I’ll throw Royal Bastards one bone though: the world-building was all right. Not great, just all right, and for a while, I enjoyed it. The beginning of the book was fine. I’ve been on a contemporary stint lately, and I enjoyed getting back into the fantasy swing of things. For that, I’m grateful.
But that doesn’t change the ultimate verdict, which is to spare yourself from this book. There are much better fantasy books out there. If you’re looking for a kick-butt team (admittedly uncommon in YA), I’d highly recommend Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology, Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series, or Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles. If you’ve already read those and loved them, I’d suggest Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, or Kiersten White’s Conqueror’s Saga. 1 star.