The King's Bastard
by Rowena Cory DaniellsThese days being royal mostly means opening an endless stream of leisure centres, attending staid ceremonies, and not having to make your own sandwiches. It's no wonder we often yearn for a world where monarchy was a whole lot more exciting. There's no lack of peril for King Rolen's offspring in The King's Bastard. If they're not heading off court intrigues they're fighting for their lives against ravenous beasts or dealing with the consequences of the taboo Affinity magic.
Byren, the twin brother of the heir to the throne, has never been eager to rule. Nevertheless he's popular and good at leadership, and his twin Lence has begun to suspect his ambition. A renegade magic user foretells that he'll turn on Lence, but Byren refuses to believe a word of it. Then Byren's friend Orrade gets severely injured and reveals a secret that could get the pair of them banished, and rifts open up within the royal family after a bastard cousin arrives at court. It's a dangerous time for the country as allegiances have to be renewed to stop the outlying warlords from rebelling, and untamed magic is leaking into the wintry landscape and attracting all manner of fierce, magic-touched creatures.
The kingdom of Rolencia seems like a small and provincial place, bordering on a wilderness, and its young royals appear for the most part quite humble. I didn't get the impression of them living in a grand palace at the heart of a bustling Empire. They don't have very many hangers-on or minions, which makes them seem vulnerable and alone. This is especially true for Fyn, the third son, who has been sent away to a monastery because of his weak Affinity. Fyn is bullied and caught in the middle of a power game for control of the monastery. He doesn't know which path he'll take through the ranks, and whether he should study with the weapons master or they mystics master or someone else. But career choices may be the least of his worries because some of the monks may not be above assassination and his royal blood makes him a target.
Then there's Piro, the youngest of the king's children at 13. She wants her freedom and she doesn't want to have to grow up and endure the responsibilities and restrictions of being a princess. At first this makes her seem childish and self-centred. But she's another one with a dangerous secret, and soon enough she grows a backbone and some spirit. The main characters are likeable, and to some extent they're everymen in spite of their royalty. They're rounded, honest and brave, but not always perfect so it's easy to identify with them and get on their side. This is just as well since there's a lot of rooting for them to be done. Threats come at them from all angles, thick and fast. It seems like everyone within the castle has a secret or a scheme, whilst outside its walls no-one can travel a day without encountering beasts, raiders, rough terrain or other possibilities for violent ends. This makes The King's Bastard a wild, boisterous adventure.
However it's also quite an involving story, not so much for the mysteries of who is up to mischief as for its developing characters. The bad guys aren't impossible to spot but they do have a few tricks up their sleeves. Rowena Cory Daniells' world should appeal to fans of Robin Hobb and Trudi Canavan with its snowbound halls and its intimate, brutal world of warring nobles. It's a strange and wondrous high fantasy realm I thoroughly enjoyed getting into.
14th February 2012
Review © Ros Jackson