“I felt like I’d been out in the cold my entire life and had just for the first time stepped into a warm house with a crackling fire. I looked around, from face to face. We all knew the same thing. We were in this together. Until the very end.” -Royal Bastards, p.144
The links below will take you to Amazon.com. Disclosure: LiteratureLynx is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This adds no additional cost to you.
Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts
Cover blurb (from Amazon): “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, 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 . . .”
I received a free copy of ‘Royal Bastards’ in exchange for an honest review. For more information, please see my review policy page
What I liked:
I’ll just say this up front- ‘Royal Bastards’ is great. It’s well written, the characters are engaging and the story is new, yet familiar. Shvarts relies on some tried and true fantasy tropes but in the best way possible. The book is being marketed as “the Game of Thrones for teens,” but I’ve never read or seen GoT, so I have no idea if that’s accurate. (I know, right?) I can say, though, that I really, really enjoyed it.
The book is traditional high-fantasy
, set in an alternate medieval land. However, the dialogue and internal monologues are written in modern language. For me, it made the characters more realistic and more relatable. Tilla and Lyriana (the main female characters) defy some stereotypes, while fulfilling others. They’re multi-dimensional and they respect each others choices. The male characters sort of fill traditional roles: the broody warrior, the comic relief and the nerdy guy. As the story progresses, though, every character becomes more complex and more interesting.
As in all great stories, the emotional core is the relationships between the characters. These too felt realistic and relatable for modern readers.
What I didn’t like:
I honestly don’t have a lot of complaints about ‘Royal Bastards.’ I was starting to get annoyed about a specific literary trope (**spoiler alert** love triangle) but that sub-plot is resolved in a satisfying way.
There’s one specific piece about the ending that I really didn’t like. It made sense in the story, and it had the intended emotional impact, but I’m still mad about it. I’m not usually a very emotional reader, but I’ll admit ‘Royal Bastards’ made me cry. If you’re someone who gets “the feels” easily, you’re going to have a hard time.
Would I recommend this book?
Yes! No caveats.
**Spoiler alert/sensitive content warning** Since a medieval war is the backdrop for this story, it’s unsurprising that there is quite a bit of violence. Some of it is pretty graphic, and Shvarts also includes situations of torture and rape (both of which are described, but not “live” for the reader.) In one instance, a female’s sexual assault is used to further a male’s story line. Based on the characters involved, and their histories, I see why this choice was made. That doesn’t mean I’m happy about it, or that I agree with it.**
**There are some interesting modern parallels to draw from ‘Royal Bastards.’ One character is the epitome of a bitter “friendzoned” guy. Shvarts plays with some of today’s social discussions. Where is the line between being polite and leading someone on? How do you make it clear that a man is not entitled to a woman’s time or affections, regardless of their history?**
Two of the main characters are non-white! And their race isn’t a direct source of conflict! I was pleasantly surprised by this fact. High fantasy isn’t known for being inclusive. In ‘Royal Bastards,’ skin tone is overtly mentioned, but isn’t the underlying cause of social prejudice. The political and historical tensions between the territories are the source of conflict. The royal family, and the most powerful magic users are black. Zell’s family is described simply as “brown”. There’s a lot to unpack there as far as power, divine right, and stereotypes.
Like I mentioned above, there are some interesting gender dynamics at play in ‘Royal Bastards.’ Women fall on both sides of every line: magic and non-magic, good and evil, religious and not. Additionally, it is openly acknowledged that one of the House Lords is gay.
I think that’s all I’ll say about it, though. You’ll have to read it and let me know what you think!
‘Royal Bastards’ is an excellent addition to fantasy, and to teen fiction. It retains the traditional-fantasy feel, but for a 21st-century audience. Simply put, it’s just a really, really good book.