City of Bastards (ARC) by Andrew Shvartz

Set to release on June 5, 2018, City of Bastards by Andrew Shvartz is the sequel to last year’s buzz-worthy debut novel, Royal BastardsCity of Bastards picks up shortly after the conclusion of Royal Bastards, once again following the actions of the illegitimate children from various nations as they navigate an increasing complex and dangerous political climate. Fans of Cassandra Clare, Sarah J. Maas, and Victoria Aveyard, as well as the hugely popular Game of Thrones, will love this adventure, and this fantasy world, which is so accessible and fun that it’s sure to appeal to readers aren’t avowed fantasy-lovers right alongside the buffs.

(NOTE: I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review)

Tilla, bastard of House Kent, has it made. Safe from her murderous father in the dazzling capital of Lightspire, she lives a life of luxury under the protection of the Volaris King, alongside her boyfriend, Zell, and best friend, Princess Lyriana. So why isn’t she happy? Maybe it’s the whispers and stares that follow her wherever she goes, as the daughter of the traitor waging war against Lightspire. Or maybe it’s the memories of her beloved brother, Jax, who lies cold in his grave even as she tries to settle into a life in the city’s prestigious University. Then Tilla stumbles upon the body of a classmate-a friend. The authorities are quick to rule it a suicide and sweep it under the rug, but when Tilla herself is attacked by a mysterious man with terrifying powers, she’s convinced of a conspiracy. Her friends beg her to stay silent; what she’s suggesting is impossible . . . and treasonous. But Tilla can’t-won’t-let it go. And the deeper she digs, the more questions she uncovers. How is the West beating the supposedly invincible Lightspire mages in battle? Is it connected to the shadowy cult wreaking havoc in Lightspire? Nothing is as it seems in the glorious capital, and Tilla’s presence might just be the spark that sets the Kingdom aflame.
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City of Bastards certainly won’t be one of my favourite reads of 2018, but it was certainly an enjoyable read, even if I found it to be a bit predictable and childish. The dialogue, while obviously attempting to be smart, fresh, and/or funny, just comes off as cringe-worthy and out of place; the writing was similarly heavy handed; the characters are loveable but (for the most part) underdeveloped; and Shvartz seems to be leaning heavily on the popularity of the genre to carry this book.

“When it comes to a system of oppression, you’re always involved. You’re either resisting or you’re collaborating” – Andrew Shvartz, City of Bastards

City of Bastards tells a story of a population at war – with its neighboring nations, and with itself. The people of Lightspire are now deeply embroiled in a war against the oppressed population in the West – and by association, Tilla’s father – but they are also fighting a battle within their own city, against those who have been oppressed by the ruling, magic-wielding upper class. Here, Tilla and her friends, find themselves caught between two truths, forced into the seemingly caring arms of Lightspire’s king, while they investigate growing unrest in the city. Shvartz did an exemplary job telling this bit of the story – even if it was a bit heavy handed in regards to the social commentary.

Unfortunately, this exemplary bit of storytelling was overshadowed by the childish and cringe-worthy nature of much of the writing – namely, the dialogue between characters, and Tilla’s “quirky” observations. At times, it feels as though Shvartz has input terms and phrases he plucked right off the Instagram feed of a rebellious 12 year old. And while this could work in a different story, it doesn’t work here – because the tone is so at odds with the serious nature of the story Shvartz is trying to tell. As a result, I found it very hard to get into this story, and at times when I did begin to become engaged, I found myself promptly thrust out of the fantasy world by something “quirky” Tilla or one of her friends found the need to say.

“What if the whole idea of sides is the problem? It’s like someone drew these lines centuries ago, and now we’re all shackled to them, forced to endlessly pick and repeat history” – Andrew Shvartz, City of Bastards

Furthermore, despite the fact that the characters – namely Tilla, Zell, and Lyriana – are very endearing, they still felt very shallow and superficial. Tilla is a rebellious and oppressed teenage girl who has undergone a fair amount of trauma since being forced to abandon her home. Zell remains a brooding and secretive teenage boy – fulfilling all requirements of the tall,  dark, and brooding stereotype. And Lyriana, like Tilla, has discovered her rebellious side, despite remaining (mostly) beholden to her parents’ expectations. Any sort of development to their characters – such as Lyriana’s self-destructive habits – is just thrown in the reader’s face. Shvartz spends very little time delving into the emotions, mental health, or experiences of his primary characters, making it difficult to connect with them.

Overall, City of Bastards just didn’t live up to its promise. Despite the powerful undertones of Shvartz story, the message was lost, with the story instead falling short when it came to quality of writing and character development (2/5).


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