Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Prisoner Of The Crown

by Jeffe Kennedy

Prisoner of the Crown is set in the empire of Dasnaria, and follows the story of Jenna, a princess who lives in a seraglio where the borders of her life are very strictly outlined. Aside from the different names and geographies, this story is scarcely fantasy in that there is no hint of magic, and it's quite closely modelled on the historical society of the Ottoman Empire.

Like other royal princesses she is related to, Jenna is kept in a harem where she is pampered but closely guarded and uneducated in the world outside. Her brothers get to leave when they're very young, to learn to be princes and to deal with statecraft. Jenna, meanwhile, learns to dance, to be obedient, and to guard her tongue. Her mother is the Emperor's first wife, and she is ruthlessly ambitious in wanting her side of the family to rule.

Although enclosed, the harem can be a dangerous place where lives are cheap and mysterious sicknesses can strike. There is an atmosphere of distrust, scheming, and unease in the run up to Jenna's wedding. She hopes for a good match, and since her mother has planned for her to marry a king she has reason to look forward to the next phase of her life. But she comes to her wedding having never seen a man before, and naive of the outside world. Her hope is that what her mother has taught her of feminine power will be enough to help her consolidate her family's position. But she has reckoned without the brutality and rigidity of the world of men, and is soon caught in a trap that puts her own survival in question.

This novel isn't a romance. It's intense, claustrophobic, and suspenseful, with occasional bursts of violence which can make for uncomfortable reading even though they're not described in minute detail.

Some of the most interesting relationships are between Jenna and her many siblings. As a young child she's closest with her half-brother Hester, her full brother Kral, and her half-sister Inga, until the boys are forced to leave. From then on her friendships with her sisters are cautious and distant, even though Inga seems smart and the younger sister Helva is likeable and amusingly frank.

Jenna also strikes up a friendship with Ada, a visiting noble from a distant part of the empire, where dress and cultural norms are different from those Jenna is used to. She agonises over how much to trust Ada or to confide in her, as Jenna lives in a world where secrets are hard to keep. In spite of Jenna's learned stand-offishness, nuanced relationships bloom throughout the story.

This novel is the first part in a series. However, the book ends at a satisfying point rather than a cliffhanger. I found myself absorbed into Jenna's peculiar life, and rooting for her as a thoughtful and determined character, even when as a reader it's easy to see that she is making imperfect decisions. This is the first in a series, and some of the things that happen to the characters are gut-turningly horrible. Nevertheless, I was intrigued enough by the main characters to want to pick up the next part of the story and read on.

18th February 2020

Book Details

Year: 2018

Categories: Books

  Female Protagonist  
  Not For The Squeamish  

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Review ©

Source: own copy