Daughters of Ruin by K.D. Castner
Daughters of Ruin is the debut novel from K.D. Castner and, presumably, the first of four books. This first title focuses on Princess Rhea of the Kingdom of Meridan, shown on the cover in her country’s colors (red and gold) and displaying an ornate set of jewelry which also doubles as her weapon of choice. The cover art is quite striking, and seems to promise a tale full of intrigue and danger, but I couldn’t see past the narrative missteps and flimsy logic, and Daughters of Ruin never came to more than a disappointment for me.
The plot has a fascinating premise: after long years of war with the neighboring kingdoms of Tasan, Findain, and Corent, King Declan of Meridan declared that he would symbolically adopt one daughter of royal blood from those countries and raise them alongside his own daughter. This would be known as the Sisterhood of Queens, and they would be taught to stand united as a family in order to prevent further costly bloodshed; the alternative to his plan was wholesale slaughter. Five-year-old Suki from Tasan, seven-year-old Iren from Corent, and seven-year-old Cadis from Findain were shipped off to take lessons in queenly comportment and martial arts with seven-year-old Rhea, with the expectation that these four young children would bond together and secure a peaceful future. It’s a terrible idea, to be sure, but I thought exploring the negative ramifications of such a foolish plan would at least be interesting.
Ten years later, King Declan’s harmonious dream has proved to be utter fallacy. Rhea is deeply paranoid and insecure, Suki is caught in a quagmire of madness, Cadis spends every waking moment trying to prove her loyalty to the Meridan people, and Iren appears to only take interest in intricate embroidery. Their weapons skills have been cultivated with the express view of defeating one another in combat, put on display once a year during the Day of Revels. In private, the princesses bicker and undermine one another to a point which is almost ludicrous, leading to one of my primary issues with Daughters of Ruin: the lack of surprise with regards to plot devices. If these four princesses have spent the last decade actively trying to kill one another, how can the reader be shocked when Findish rebels attack the castle and the girls are reluctant to band together? Their lack of trust in each other seems a matter of course, not a bitter betrayal of their supposedly happy family, and as a result I was confused by the amount of text devoted to their individual emotional reactions to this “betrayal” rather than who attacked the castle, and for what purpose. The goal of this novel seems to be the establishment of character personalities and backgrounds, with the potential for actual plot progression saved for later installments.
The chapters tell different portions of the story from each princess’ point of view, and while Castner makes stylistic choices to differentiate each of the girls, only a few of them were successful. Rhea’s paranoia is on full display in her repetitive, long-winded ruminations on how each of the other Sister Queens wants to destroy her family. Iren’s brilliant, methodical mind is reflected in single sentences which describe her life in a series of lists rather than blocky paragraphs. Cadis’ is the most traditional narrative and her perspective as an outsider — whether in Meridan or among her own people — was compelling and captivating. When it comes to Suki’s chapters, Castner reveals her distracted state of mind through constant intrusion of parentheses, to the point where it’s nearly impossible to understand where Suki is or what she’s experiencing. I had to re-read many of her sections, and rather than seeing an effective interpretation of a mind struggling against madness, I simply came away with frustration that Castner hadn’t employed line breaks or even font changes as her tool of choice.
Daughters of Ruin holds some interesting concepts at its core, and the reluctant partnership between Cadis and Iren was largely believable. Rhea’s mistrust of the other girls began reasonably, but rapidly became overwrought and overblown. Suki’s grief over a dead biological sister and her resentment of the entire Sisterhood endeavor is handled clumsily, and as a result, was difficult for me to connect with. There’s also a lot of foreshadowing, right in the first chapter, concerning a character whose importance to the plot was both too-obvious and a disappointment.
There’s room, if Daughters of Ruin is expanded into a series, for character development and exploration of the different kingdoms. Castner’s got some good ideas, and I’d like to see how she cultivates them along with her skills as a writer. But as it stands, the foundation of this initial novel doesn’t rise above the vanilla YA fantasy genre expectations.
This really is an interesting idea.
It is, and with a slightly different approach, I think it could have been really successful.