Dear Ms. Murphy,
Your urban fantasy novels have failed to work for me in the past but I like giving authors second chances, especially when they expand into a favorite subgenre. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a political fantasy, and this book reminded me why I enjoy it.
Set in an alternate fantasy world modeled after historical Europe, The Queen’s Bastard follows the life of Belinda Primrose, the illegitimate daughter of Queen Lorraine of Aulun. Unacknowledged by her mother, Belinda was raised by her father, Robert Drake, to be an assassin and spy who serves Aulum by protecting her mother’s throne. Her latest mission brings her to Gallin, where she must find proof that the rival Queen Sandalia of Lanyarch and Lutetia is plotting to kill Lorraine in order to seize her throne. There, Belinda insinuates herself within the circle of friends belonging to Sandalia’s son, Javier, and soon discovers they have something in common: magic. As they learn to wield this mysterious witchpower together, Belinda, used to living her entire life serving the wishes and schemes of others, discovers she wants power for herself.
The first thing that struck me about this story is that all of the ruling figures are women. Lorraine, Sandalia, Ilyana (of Khazar). It’s rare to find a fantasy in which this is the case. Maybe one or two ruling female figures but three? All of whom rule the major countries depicted? That’s not something often found in this particular subgenre. In addition to Belinda, who works in the shadows and is a force to be reckoned with, there’s also the dangerous Countess Akilina who has motives of her own. I’m hard-pressed to think of another fantasy in which the major political players are women, and I found this refreshing.
While I wouldn’t consider Belinda to be a nice or sympathetic character 100% of the time, I found her story compelling. I admit the opening of Chapter 1 made me hesitate because it was a birthing scene, told from perspective of the baby of all things. There are some things even the best worldbuilding will never make me believe. It appears this is one of those things. Once I made it past that first scene, however, I found her coming of age interesting. Belinda has always sensed she was different, that there was a secret her father kept from her. It wasn’t until she met Javier that she realized it was magic. Belinda’s sudden exposure to her strong latent ability, more even more potent because she didn’t grow into it like Javier, is both a godsend and her downfall.
I’m particularly intrigued by the background players — the mages: Robert, Dmitri, and the still-unseen Seolfr. Why have they insinuated themselves into the major courts? Robert is father to Belinda. Dmitri is father to Ivanova. I don’t think it’s a coincidence these witchbreed offspring are being born of royal blood. And for that matter, who is Javier’s father? Is it the unknown Seolfr? Or is it another player entirely? I have a feeling this will come into play in future books. Witchbreed don’t seem to be in vast numbers, so I wonder if there is a plot to seize all of the major royal thrones and place them under witchbreed rule. Only speculation at this point, but I think it’s a possibility.
While not exactly a criticism, this book reads like the first installment of a longer saga. It contains a complete story, but I don’t think it stands alone very well. Like many other books in this subgenre, I believe the sequels will need to be read to fully enjoy the world and plotlines presented here.
Overall, I consider this a refreshing change from all the urban fantasy and paranormal romance I’ve been reading lately. It still features vivid, strong female characters but brings some of that traditional fantasy setting I sometimes miss. B-
This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells or ebook format. Note from Jane: Random House’s site says this book is available in ebook format, but I have yet to find a buy link which is frustrating because I want to buy the ebook.