Monday, May 29, 2017

Book Review: Royal Bastards

If you read my reviews/blog, you know how much I love tropes. And I love the skill it takes to weave these tropes into a good story without sounding derivative. The YA dystopia thing has hit that level since everything just kind of sounds like everything else. I finished a book today that is the very definition of the Exactly What It Says On The Tin trope: Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts. And it was terrific.

Royal Bastards is described as "Game of Thrones meets the Breakfast Club" and it is literally exactly what it says on the tin. It's damn near perfect and s thoroughly enjoyable YA fantasy adventure that plays with the tropes of epic fantasy with a terrific YA voice. And that's one of the many things that blew me away about this book. It takes tons of elements from the GOT show/book while blending them into that '80s aesthetic of THE BREAKFAST CLUB....he even pulls off a training montage in the middle of the book that I literally could hear HEARTS OF FIRE playing in the background.  

If you've followed my blog, you know that I've crafted my own YA Game of Thrones book, but this book really made me sort of realized where I had failed. Shvart's voice is just amazing. From the opening page, you are just drawn in with the way he's telling this massive tale. I'll often complain about 1st person POV in a book like this, but Tilla's voice in the story was well drawn, inclusive and just very...well, Tilla. 

The worldbuilding is stellar. He paints a clear picture of the world (since I had an eARC, I didn't get a map and according to the author, it's spectacular!) and the people in it without overwhelming you with it. Shvarts uses every tool to do so and does it really, really well, including a brilliant use of the "useful idiot" narrative tool. My former agent introduced me to this concept, the useful idiot is a character used to explain something the reader doesn't know without just info dumping it in the narrative. From the individual provinces, of which we only see a sliver, to the Zitochi tribesmen, a well-drawn, just complex enough group that could have easily turned into the stereotypical savaged but come across more like "Aiel Lite" (and I mean that as a compliment). Using the Avatar: The Last Airbender method, he fills the world around him with wildlife dangers that sound familiar but just different enough that we know we aren't in Kansas anymore I'm eager to see how the rest of this world is introduced to us.

The plot is stellar. Familiar enough but written with skill and panache. (Wow, I just used panache in a review.) It moves quickly, just one the edge of breakneck and it's one of the things I liked most about the book. Shvart's pacing is terrific and he gives you just enough moments to catch your narrative breath (and these are the perfects spots that he injects his outstanding worldbuilding) between the moments of high tension that rely on the craftiness and skills of the said bastards to get out of the various sticky situations that arise as they run to save their world. The twists and turns are great and while I predicted some, it didn't diminish my enjoyment of them in the least. Shvart's skill shows through. He sets up the next book almost brilliantly with his wildly satisfying solution that seems to take parts of bunches of other things and blends them together into a nice smoothie.

I really loved this book and it's another book that I'm jealous of because it's so similar to what I wrote and shopped but didn't quite stick the way that I'd hoped. It showed some of my story's shortcomings and things I could probably improve on when I give it a shot again. I can't rave about this book enough. It's easily on my Best of 2017 list and it'll be a contender for the top book of 2017. 

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