Review: Royal Bastards, Andrew Shvarts


Although Royal Bastards has a couple of interesting choices in terms of narration and word usage, the plot and characterization make this a great read.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been interested in Royal Bastards for quite some time. Yours truly put it on her list of books to read this year and everything. Having it moved up a couple weeks, then, to just this past Tuesday, was not a problem.

As I stated back then, our protagonist is Tillandra, who ends up meeting a princess and some of her fellow bastards, used here not in the swearing sense but in the sense of “has illegitimate parentage.”

After reading the book, though, I’m of two minds on it all. On the one hand, the plot actually ends up working really well, strengthened by a couple of author Andrew Shvarts’ choices in characterization. On the other, something about the narrative voice Tilla has doesn’t gel quite as well with the chosen genre. Ultimately, I’ll come down in favor of the good, not the not-so-good, and give it 4/5 stars.

The Good

One of perhaps the best things about this book is that it allows Tilla and Lyriana, the aforementioned princess, to be friends, but it doesn’t immediately mash them together and make them best friends right away. Instead, Tilla (and, one suspects, the reader) has to come to like Lyriana and find positive things about her. Shvarts doesn’t pit them against each other, either, and although there are a couple other key relationships that matter in the novel, I’m perhaps most excited to see how Tilla and Lyriana continue growing together.

That pun might be slightly inadvertent, but it does bring me to my next point. Shvarts doesn’t waste time trying to establish every single tiny detail of how the magic system works in the world of Royal Bastards. A reader learns just enough to be dangerous. That opens up a lot of different avenues to explore in future novels, should future novels be happening. Additionally, it’s nice to not have exposition clobber a reader over the head with 12 different types of magic.

Although I can’t spoil too much for the sake of this review, I particularly enjoyed how Shvarts resolved what could have become a bog-standard YA love triangle. The choices in characterization made it feel like a strong moment overall. In fact, one could even read it as addressing some issues of toxic masculinity. Hopefully, this trend also continues.

Finally, the core five characters: Tilla, Lyriana, Jax, Zell, and Miles all have their own discrete, distinct characteristics. They don’t all just magically get along, either. Tilla and Lyriana just happen to be the best example of a working friendship.

The Not-So-Good

Now we get to the part that had me scratching my head a bit. Generally, with the fantasy-style of setting Shvarts has chosen, there are, shall we say, expectations for language usage. Tilla often sounds more like a 16-year-old starring in a modern-set novel. It’s particularly apparent in her narration. However, she’s also the only narrator. It doesn’t ruin the reading experience. Moreover, Shvarts doesn’t suddenly start dropping the language shift out of nowhere. It’s right there in the first chapter, actually. Here’s an example:

"“Besides. Why would I ever walk across the courtyard like a sucker when there was an awesome hidden tunnel I could sneak through?” (Kindle location 93; page 7 in advance proof)"

Once you get used to the mix of quote-unquote “standard fantasy dialogue” and this, it’s really not bad or anything and indeed often quite funny. It just seems like a strange choice to begin with, and it asks a seasoned reader to make some adjustments to other expectations. In that sense, it actually serves one of the greater points of the novel about how things should be and how they actually are.

The Recommendation

Royal Bastards left me eager to see what comes next. (In case you may not have noticed, I would actually like there to be a next novel here.) It has a lot going for it, provided that you can adjust to the different word choices Shvarts employs throughout.

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Royal Bastards is out now via Disney Hyperion.