“The shape of a crown stood out in the emerald wax of the seal, and Lysande glanced at it once before looking away, staring at anything but that envelope.”
Lysande is a scholar, and an orphan. Adopted by the Queen of Elira, Sarelin Brey, she’s risen to a position of trust and even friendship. But now her idol lies near death. Eliran custom dictates that a new leader will be chosen from the rulers of the five, disparate lands it contains, and the selection decision falls upon a chosen Councillor. That Lysande is a commoner should rule her out, and yet she is thrust into the role of publicly choosing from her ‘superiors’ who should have ultimate rule – and privately, trying to deduce which of them killed the former Queen.
The beginning of this novel put me a little in mind of the wonderful Goblin Emperor, probably because of the slow pace, the focus on the analytical rather than action. It caught me a little by surprise, then, when things blossom into quite a different story, without losing that element of analytical thought and focus on the characters. Definitely worth sticking with if, like me, you struggle a little with the slow beginning.
I think part of that is the use of frequent flashback thoughts – not full blown scenes, but Lysande’s habit of thinking back to the time when… blah blah. It can make things feel a little disjointed, and you do need to pay a little attention. She’s not the most likeable of characters all the time, either – or perhaps it was just the odd drug habit, which we’re thrust into early on without getting a huge amount of explanation to make it even slightly sympathetic for quite some time.
These are minor grumbles, though, as is a passing comment that this is a very ‘full’ book. There’s commentary on rich v. poor, on judging people for abilities they have no control over developing, on power, and several other themes. It’s a tad busy! There’s also a large amount of gender politics, and it’s wonderful! Fantasy (and sci-fi) all too often disappoint by sticking to how things are/were in the real world, and that sometimes feels like it’s missing the point. Or, it can go the other way and be contrary in a very obvious fashion. The Councillor hits that perfect sweet spot of mixing things up and just doing it so matter of factly that it’s amazing! The default seems to be female – and I cannot tell you how many times I got annoyed at myself for assuming e.g. the Captain would be male, argh! – and there are moments of ‘the little husband’ kind of thing, but men aren’t subjugated or lesser, just less… well, yeah, default. Wonderful!
It just works, and lifted this from an already intriguing fantasy plot into something that felt that little bit more clever, and definitely different enough to stand out. Mainly that’s down to some excellent writing. It took a while to get really in to the book, for me, but once it caught me there was no letting go. How this Machiavellian plot would twist and turn, revealing answers to several mysteries along the way – yup, that was definitely worth sticking around for!
There’s going to be at least one more book in this series, and I am thoroughly looking forward to it.
NetGalley eARC: 448 pages / 15 chapters
First published: 2021
Series: The Councillor book 1
Read from February 28th – 24th March 2021
My rating: 8/10