Australian Publication Date – 31 July 2018
World Publication Date – 5 June 2018
Young adult fantasy author Andrew Shvarts has a dramatic return with City of Bastards, an explosive and incredible follow-up to his electrifying 2017 debut.
After her father’s declaration of rebellion against the crown, Tilla, bastard daughter of Lord Kent, turned against him by rescuing the king’s daughter, Princess Lyriana, from his clutches. Fleeing her father’s lands in the west of the Kingdom of Noveris, Tilla, Lyriana, and Tilla’s boyfriend, Zell, make the journey to the capital city of Lightspire, the opulent and magical city where Lyriana’s father reigns.
Attempting to put aside the horrors she experienced while fleeing from the west, Tilla settles down in a life of luxury as a student in the city’s prestigious university. However, not everything is as shiny and golden as Tilla had hoped it would be. She faces ostracism from the most of the city’s population as her father continues to wage war against the kingdom. On top of that, Zell appears unsatisfied with city life and is growing distant from her. Tilla and Lyriana are still mourning the death of Tilla’s brother, Jax, and not even their hard partying lifestyle is making them feel any better.
Their new lives are only destined to last for so long before disaster strikes. When Tilla finds her roommate dead, she knows that a mysterious mage she encountered is behind the death. But no-one seems willing to believe her, and the death is quickly ruled a suicide and pushed under the rug. When she is then attacked by the rogue mage, something considered impossible, Tilla begins to realise that there is something very rotten in the heart of the Lightspire. With her father apparently keeping the king’s invincible army of mages at bay, and shadowy cultists sowing chaos in the city, Tilla uncovers a terrible plot that could shake the entire foundation of the kingdom. With the king’s inquisitor hunting her as a traitor and the whole word turned against her, can Tilla and her friends stop the evil unfolding in front of them before it’s too late?
City of Bastards is Shvarts’s second book, and is the sequel to last year’s release, Royal Bastards. This is a fantastic new series of young adult fantasy books, with a third entry already planned for 2019. These books are marketed towards a young adult audience, but this is a series that will also prove to be massively appealing to older readers as well. Fair warning to parents: this is probably not the best series for younger readers, as the huge amounts of drugs, drinking, sex and teen angst make this books more appropriate for an mid to older teenage audience.
This novel contains a truly captivating story of intrigue and murder in the heart of a magnificent and magical city. Shvarts combines some excellent thriller and fantasy elements together to create a superb overall narrative, which includes a large-scale conspiracy that proves to be particularly impressive. There is a well-written and absorbing investigation angle getting towards the conclusion of this plot, and the full scope of this conspiracy is very elaborate and uses some intriguing magical elements. There are a number of surprising twists, betrayals and dramatic reveals that will hook the readers, while the conclusion of the story is epic in its size and consequences. Overall, this is an extremely compelling fantasy thriller story that has not been simplified for a younger audience.
Shvarts has also created an intricate and intriguing cityscape that serves as an excellent setting for the story. There are some memorable locations visited throughout the course of the narrative, and the author does a fantastic job showing the differences between the richer areas of the Lightspire and the districts where the everyday citizens live. Exploration through the city by the protagonist highlights this class difference and the corruption of the rich, all of which forms a significant story element later in the book. The author also introduces some fascinating fantasy elements, such as large-scale magical messages, unique methods of transportation, rebellious anti-magic fanatics, the kingdom’s hidden magical heart and substantial catacombs under the city that hold dark and powerful secrets. All of these elements play a significant role in City of Bastards’ story, and meld in perfectly with the protagonist’s investigation and the vast underlying conspiracy.
The entirety of City of Bastards is narrated by the book’s protagonist, Tilla. Shvarts does an amazing job of capturing the essence of a modern teenager in the book’s narration, and the reader really feels that they are accompanying a rebellious young woman on her quest throughout the city. As a result, the book is filled with sarcasm, funny jokes, humorous observations and a certain amount of complaining about the situation. The story is also infected with a bit of teen angst, which is amusing to see amongst storylines dealing with the future of a civilisation and will no doubt prove to be relatable to many readers. In addition to the humour, this narration also allows the reader to see the protagonist’s many vulnerabilities throughout the course of the story. Overall, the protagonist’s narration adds a lot to this book, and is definitely one of its more appealing features.
A highlight of the book has to be the realistic focus on trauma and the powerful consequences of the first book. Some of the very best young adult books are those which do not shy away from heavy topics, featuring gritty and realistic portrayals of trauma and PTSD as they try to highlight the often unseen or unconsidered costs of their character’s attempted heroism or battles for survival. In City of Bastards, Tilla, Lyriana and Zell spend a significant amount of time dealing with the terrible things the encountered in the first book, including the death of Jax, Tilla’s brother and Lyriana’s love interest. Lyriana’s transformation is the most dramatic, as is she suffering not only from Jax’s loss but also from the guilt and trauma following her decision to break her oath of pacifism and kill someone with her magic. As a result, she turns from the sensible and respectful character she was in Royal Bastards to a hard-drinking wreck who acts out in a number of different ways and has a hard time dealing with her feelings. Tilla is also traumatised by the death of Jax, and while at times she seems to be processing it better, her depression is compounded by the dramatic changes in her life and the outright disdain that many characters show her. Overall, this realistic portrayal of trauma and vulnerability in the characters is very well written and adds a real emotional edge to the story.
City of Bastards is an amazing piece of young adult fantasy that makes substantial use of its new setting to create an epic, conspiracy-laden storyline that proves to be exceedingly captivating. This is a powerful sequel to Andrew Shvarts’s first book, and fans of Royal Bastards will be entranced by the author’s focus on the first book’s devastating consequences. This is one of the best pieces of young adult fiction of 2018. I had a real hard time putting this book down, and it comes highly recommend.
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