"The King's Bastard"
Format: Paperback, 448 pages
Publisher: Solaris Books
Review copy received through the courtesy of the publisher, Solaris Books
Cloaked in silent winter snow the Kingdom of Rolencia sleeps as rumours spread of new Affinity Seeps, places where untamed power wells up. Meanwhile, King Rolen plans his jubilee unaware of the growing threat to those he loves.
By royal decree, all those afflicted with Affinity must serve the Abbey or face death. Sent to the Abbey because of his innate Affinity, the King’s youngest son, Fyn, trains to become a warrior monk. Unfortunately, he’s a gentle dreamer and the other acolytes bully him. The only way he can escape them is to serve the Abbey Mystic, but his Affinity is weak.
Fiercely loyal, thirteen year-old Piro is horrified to discover she is also cursed with unwanted Affinity. It broke their mother’s heart to send Fyn away, so she hides her affliction. But, when Fyn confesses his troubles, Piro risks exposure to help him.
Even though Byren Kingson is only seven minutes younger than his twin, Lence, who is the king's heir, Byren has never hungered for the Rolencian throne. When a Seer predicts that he will kill Lence, he laughs. But Lence Kingsheir sees Byren’s growing popularity and resents it. Enduring loyalty could be Byren’s greatest failing.
Unfamiliar with Rowena Cory Daniells and her works the first thing that caught my attention at “The King’s Bastard” was the beautiful cover artwork of the novel. I know better than to judge a book by its cover, but worse criteria of picking a book for reading come to mind and therefore I don’t have anything in particular against it.
Lately I discovered that fantasy literature tends to be much darker and grittier than before and I have to admit that this trend is very much on my liking. However, it is wrong to say that all the recently published fantasy novels are inclined towards the darker side and one novel among those that level the balance is Rowena Cory Daniells’ “The King’s Bastard”, the first in her trilogy, “King Rolen’s Kin”.
Not only the atmosphere of “The King’s Bastard” is light, but also the writing and setting are light, Rowena Cory Daniells uses a friendly language that makes it easier for the reader to engage with the story and a setting that although it is traced, but not excessively detailed. The world built by Rowena Cory Daniells is a pleasant one however and I could find elements of interest quite often. The base and the more complete details come from the history of this world, the novel providing enough moments and elements for the setting to be established through the forays into the world’s past. The theological aspect offers a very interesting and attracting perspective. There are two gods, Halcyon and Sylion, who find themselves in opposition, one female and one male figure, each one represented by half of a year. They also inflict a balance since each one becomes the main worshipped deity during their associated half of the year and each served by the opposing gender, Halcyon, the female, by monks and Sylion, the male, by nuns.
The theological aspect is related to the magic, but the Affinity, as the magic is called in “The King’s Bastard”, although plays an important role within the story is not as clearly defined. I could find that the magic ability can be inherited, but how it is used and why, sometimes, it is strictly necessary, remains more of the mystery. Still, I have hope that the magic element will be touched more in the novels to follow since two of the storyline within the novel are close related to magic. The magic is related to the fauna and flora of this setting and those enrich the world, the reader having frequent chances to encounter animals during the reading.
“The King’s Bastard” is as much a family story as it is a story of a country, respectively Rolencia. The main characters are the royal family of Rolencia, King Rolen and his wife, Myrella, their three sons, the twins Lence and Byren, Fyn and the youngest child, their daughter Piro. I must honestly say that neither of these characters, or the supporting ones, drew my affection. The story clearly divides the characters between good and bad ones, this aspect playing in their disadvantage. Too often I felt that the characters are too good to be plain good and too bad to be plain bad. The humans are generally more in the grey zone and there are many reasons behind their actions that are buried closer or deeper beneath the surface. There are a few supporting characters, but they tend to accentuate the tendency of the major one towards the good or the bad side. I also couldn’t escape the feeling that the world is slightly uninhabited, because the cities, not many of them present, seem to be lifeless, missing more minor presences to create a sense of movement on the locations.
The politics are the main feature of the plot, on a grander scale when it comes to the kingdom of Rolencia and its relationship with the neighbours, on a smaller scale when it comes to the Halcyon Abbey and the events within it and on personal scale when it comes to the ties between the twin brothers, Lence and Byren, and their surfacing rivalry and conflict. With the plot focused on politics, stratagems and machinations the reader still can find action scenes. These scenes, however, consists mostly of hunting moments, a different encounter between human and beast. The action scenes involving only humans are fewer and a bit too dramatic. Come to think of it, almost every connection and engagement between humans has a deeply emotional side and in places becomes melodramatic.
I still prefer much more the darker and grittier side of fantasy, but “The King’s Bastard” was a relaxing break from that particular type of fiction. And although I cannot place the first book in the “King Rolen’s Kin” among my top favorite readings, Rowena Cory Daniells’ high fantasy novel made me curious enough to eventually see the outcome of her series.