The Bright Thrones novella (2017) ties up some loose threads left after the conclusion of Poisoned Blade, the second book in Kate Elliott’s COURT OF FIVES trilogy. In the middle of that novel, Jessamy reunites briefly with her twin sister, Bettany, who appears to be in servitude to a famous foreign doctor, Lord Agalar. Very little about their strange situation is explained at the time, and circumstances drive the sisters apart just when it seems that a reunification (though certainly not a reconciliation) might be possible.
Most of Bright Thrones takes place before Bettany and Jes meet up at the royal family’s tombs; the novella reveals quite a lot about who Lord Agalar is and what his motivations are for coming into Lord Gargaron’s orbit. He’s portrayed as untrustworthy and racist, albeit a brilliant trauma surgeon, in Poisoned Blade, so the opportunity to get to know him better felt odd at first but quickly made more sense as the novella progressed. Elliott also provides a deeper appreciation for Bettany’s overall worldview, and what would possibly lead her to ally herself with this foreigner and his retinue after being sent into slavery by Lord Gargaron. While she makes herself useful as Agalar’s scribe and medical assistant, and gets to know him better and realizes what’s really going on, a world of possibilities opens up for Bettany, and a difficult choice must be made.
Bettany is brilliant, defensive, compassionate, and angry — I liked her immediately, and relished the chance to soak up her point of view. More space could easily have been given to her narrative, and the same could be said of Agalar, who didn’t really come into focus for me, aside from some horrible revelations about his past. Additionally, the romantic angle needed more time to develop and flourish into something more believable and to shake off the uncomfortable trappings of master-slave dependency. The two of them don’t spend enough time on equal footing for their professions of love to ring true, though they’re fascinating people and I would have happily read a novel-length exploration of their complicated relationship and personal growth. As with Court of Fives, this element read as a concession to the expectations of the YA genre rather than an organic development within the story.
Clearly, if you haven’t read any of the COURT OF FIVES books, starting here would be a bad idea. Allusions to prior conversations and events won’t make any sense, nor will shifts in characterization or setting. After reading Poisoned Blade, I had hoped that Bettany would make an appearance in the series’ concluding novel, Buried Heart, though I’m sad to report that (due to reasons explained in Bright Thrones) this novella is the last time readers will see her.
While the Night Flower novella was a welcome, but not crucial, prologue entry in the COURT OF FIVES series, Bright Thrones explains Bettany’s absence from Buried Heart in a deeper way that simply reading that novel will not. I absolutely appreciated getting to know her character better, along with seeing her perceptions of her sisters and their family dynamic. On the other hand, readers who pass over this digital-only novella and go straight from Poisoned Blade to Buried Heart won’t find any gaps in the storytelling, nor will they miss out on any earth-shattering revelations. If you’re only reading the physical or audiobook copies of this series, you’ll still be just fine.