Sunday, March 7, 2021

REVIEW: City of Bastards (book) by Andrew Shvarts

City of Bastards is the second book in Shvarts' Royal Bastards trilogy. It's YA fantasy.

This review includes slight spoilers.


Tilla spent the first book on the run from her own father after witnessing him commit murder and pit himself and the West against the Volaris King. In this book, Tilla is finally safe and secure, at least on the surface. She and her friends are now in the capital of Lightspire, under the protection of Lyriana's father, the King. However kind the King is towards her, she's well aware that others see her as nothing more than the daughter of a traitor. She at least has her relationship with Zell, but there are times when he's closed off and unhappy. Even Lyriana is having trouble adjusting to "normal" life - the formerly dutiful princess now spends an awful lot of time partying, drinking, and hooking up with random young nobles.

When one of Tilla's friends ends up dead, she's one of the only people to suspect that it was murder rather than suicide. As she tries to figure out the truth, she's forced to question who she can trust and how safe her current position really is.

I read the first book in this trilogy so that I could finally read this ARC I picked up ages ago at a conference. The first book had great energy and decent pacing. This book, on the other hand, was tedious and annoying. The suicide/murder that I mentioned in my description took ages to happen. Up to that point, it was mostly parties and Tilla, Zell, and Lyriana pretending that nothing was bothering them when clearly that wasn't the case.

I wasn't a fan of the way Tilla and Zell were paired up in the first book. It was too fast and too much - they were physically attracted to each other, and they'd bonded over their shared danger and Zell teaching Tilla how to fight, but they knew pretty much nothing about each other when it came to living anything like a normal life. Tilla didn't fight for fun, and once they were no longer in constant danger, she kept finding excuses not to spar with Zell. Zell was clearly struggling to adjust to his new life - a completely different culture, with no other Zitochi around - but Tilla's only response was silent embarrassment, annoyance, or horror whenever he did something inappropriate. Other characters called them a cute couple at least twice that I can recall, and it struck me as forced. They didn't seem particularly cute to me - they liked cuddling and having sex, but other than that they barely spent any time together and didn't seem to have any interests in common.

For a while there, I thought Shvarts was actually going to do something with that. Maybe they'd discover that attraction and a period of shared danger was all they had, and that wasn't enough. And then the book's ending happened. I guess Shvarts really does want them to be a "cute" couple that somehow manages to overcome their problems despite everything.

The murder and conspiracy stuff took way too long to get going and didn't feel particularly exciting until near the end. I enjoyed the final party scene...right up until it turned incredibly bleak. Tilla summoned up a big speech that somehow renewed everyone else's determination and spirits, but the timing was way too soon - I was honestly surprised no one burst into hysterical laughter, considering that it was, I'm guessing, just a couple hours since they all ended up in an overwhelming and demoralizing mess.

I'm one book away from finishing this, and I have no desire to read it. The characters don't interest me, and their reactions don't quite feel natural. I really don't want to see Tilla and Zell cobble together some "our relationship hit a rough patch but will now be stronger than ever" moments. I'm vaguely interested in whatever revelations there might be about the Titans, their origins, and their goals, but not enough to continue on with this.

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