Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts
Royal Bastards (2017) marks the newest addition to YA epic fantasy — a genre that seems to be having a bit of a moment. We meet Tilla, our plucky young heroine and bastard to the Lord Kent, and her half-brother Jax, swigging wine on the palace roof and watching the arrival of the visiting Princess Lyriana. Despite their royal blood, the bastards are worlds apart from the legitimate royals, though all that may be about to change…
A great feast marks the welcome for Princess Lyriana, but she shocks Tilla and her fellow bastards by sitting at their table, instead of with the highborns. That night, Tilla leads Lyriana and her fellow bastards on an evening escapade, but they find themselves witnessing a crime and a plan to start another Great War. Now Tilla and the bastards must run, taking Lyriana with them to protect the future queen of the kingdom.
One thing Andrew Shvarts makes sure of is that the plot zips along nicely, and this is perhaps the book’s greatest strength. Once the crew embark on their journey, the action rarely lets up and they leap from one near miss to the next. What’s more, the graphic violence, whilst sometimes a little jarring, will certainly keep those pages turning. Whilst it does feel a little like Shvarts has cherry-picked characteristics of all the recent blockbuster series (Game of Thrones-inspired gore and John Green-style angst), these tropes are popular for a reason and as long as readers aren’t yanked out of the story, they’ll prove successful.
One thing certain to divide readers is Tilla’s voice. Whilst set in a medieval-style fantasy world, Tilla speaks like your average 21st century teenager. Her speech is littered with awesomes and she even imagines a hot guy’s abs. Whilst a distinctive first person voice is certainly one of the defining traits of contemporary YA, readers might feel that it doesn’t really have a place here in an epic fantasy. It’s certainly clear what Shvarts was trying to do, but he may have alienated more readers than he got on board. All we need to do is look to Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind to see that an epic-style first person voice can be just as engaging as your preppy contemporary teen.
With a strong supporting cast and a plot that’ll drag readers to the finish, Royal Bastards is sure to delight YA readers. Despite Shvarts trying to rustle up a recipe from ingredients that don’t quite go together, if readers remain open-minded, they’re sure to be hankering for the next installment.