This was an Edelweiss read, and one that I’ve been meaning to get around to for ages, but for some reason it just stayed on my list. Probably because I was approved for it last year, but it wasn’t due to come out until this week, so I wanted to save it until nearer the release date. I seem to have succeeded at that quite well.
I got a bit confused when I went to add my first update to Goodreads though, because it said the book was a sequel. It actually isn’t, and when you click through to the series details it has a note at the top that explains that: they’re set in the same world, though different kingdoms within it, but each companion novel is a standalone. That’s definitely how it felt to read. In a few places, there were hints at worldbuilding that weren’t fully explained, so I guess that’s where the other books are relevant, but the characters and plot aren’t a chronological sequel to anything and don’t feel like one either.
I liked this a reasonable amount. I didn’t absolutely adore it, but there wasn’t much I actively disliked, either, which is always a positive thing. Honestly, most of my thoughts about it are fairly neutral ones, which makes it hard to structure this in a logical way.
First up, if Cait @ Paper Fury hasn’t already read this, then she should probably give it a go because there is a LOT of food, especially cake and pastries and other baked goods, and I feel like that’s something Cait would appreciate. Lots of pie and cake and references to it and statements about pie being the greatest that sounded like they came from Cait’s blog and so on.
Secondly, related to that: I actually really liked the fact that Ari was ‘fat’ (though she never describes herself that way, descriptions make it fairly clear she’s curvy/large, and someone uses it as an insult, too). She’s described as large, and as beautiful, and as determined and badass — and none of those things are a presented as a contradiction in terms, except by jerks. And she’s not self-loathing, either, which makes a nice change. She loves food, both baking and eating, and she’s unapologetic about that.
Thirdly, this is a fairly esoteric point, but seriously: can I start making a list of “books that use Irish as a magical language without actually calling it Irish”? Because this would join Eragon (please, don’t talk to me about the ‘Ancient Language’ in that series) on that list. It’s not even disguised. I don’t know modern Irish, only the medieval version — though I’m hoping to change that — but it was transparent even to me.
I have to admit there’s something a bit frustrating about seeing Irish referred to as ‘fae’ or ‘the ancient language’ or whatever, but never represented as an actual legit living language in books. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book where a character speaks Irish, tbh (Welsh is pretty rare too, but I think it’s come up once or twice), but Irish is very, very often used for fantasy and magic. Which isn’t exactly a BAD thing, except that the fairytales and folklore this book draws on are, for the most part, not Irish — Hansel and Gretel appear, it’s mostly based on Rumpelstiltskin, there are refs to fairy lore that sounds more English than Irish — so it seems like a fairly arbitrary choice of language and one that neglects Irish’s identity as an actual language which living people speak. A character called Rumpelstiltskin speaks Irish as their native language? Are you sure? Maybe if it was a character called Midir or Oisin or Bodb Derg…
(That said, I don’t know where this author is from — for all I know they could be Irish themselves. But I think my point still stands, because can we get some ACTUAL love and representation for Celtic languages in books, please? I feel the need to make up for my country’s history of repressing and trying to wipe out that literature by including it in all of the books ever.)
Okay, sorry, I turned out to have stronger feelings about that than I realised when I started writing that point and it got away from me. Never let it be said I don’t give personal perspectives, right?
On the whole, I found the characters inoffensive, even if none of them jumped out at me. I liked that Ari got to be competent as well as rebellious — she knows how to do accounts and how political schemes and cunning plans should work, she’s capable of running a kingdom if necessary, but she also gets to run around taking off her corset so she can bake and/or wave a sword around. It made for a well-rounded impression of a ‘princess’, and one that respected the status of a royal woman as something more than just a marriage prize or whatever, which I like. Princesses were badass in history, so they should get the chance to be badass in books without having to reject being a princess, tbh.
The plot requires quite a lot of double-crossing and scheming and I can’t say I followed all of it, but I read this in a slightly disjointed manner during a busy day, so that might just have been me. It wasn’t too convoluted, nor too predictable, and there were a couple of twists that caught me out.
I found the romance to be okay. It didn’t annoy me, the way a lot of romances do, and it had some cute moments and some real character growth involved. That said, it wasn’t one of the (very) few (heterosexual) romance plots in books that gets me fully invested and passionate (I’m interested more in queer romance plots and even then it takes something really good to get me invested), so mostly I didn’t have strong feelings and/or felt the characters would make better life choices if they had less romantic feelings.
It did all work out okay, though — in a way, it worked out TOO okay, because I like my endings bittersweet and yeah, some bad stuff happened, but that was kind of overshadowed by the Everything Is Happy Ever After ending. (There’s a major character death that I guess makes it bittersweet, except that I don’t think it’s treated with as much emphasis as it would need to sour the happy mood, and I was never hugely invested in that character in the first place.)
All in all, I’m torn as to whether to give it three stars (for not wowing me) or four stars (for an entertaining and not unenjoyable read). I think I’ll go for the latter, because I definitely enjoyed it a fair amount, but that’s because I’m being nice: it’s definitely more like a 3.5* read. Even if nobody else would notice or care about how Irish was used, which I objected to.