Publisher: Daw Books (Hardcover – 20 July 2021)
Series: The Councillor – Book One
Length: 442 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Australian author E. J. Beaton presents an excellent and compelling fantasy debut with The Councillor, an outstanding and impressive read.
Elira is a country still recovering from a fractious war a generation ago spurred on by the tyrannical magic-wielding White Queen. The heroic Sarelin Brey, known as the Iron Queen, defeated the White Queen and led the subsequent hunt for the elementals, powerful magical users, who were forced into hiding. Now, Elira once again stands on the brink of ruin when a mysterious assassin manages to kill the Iron Queen, an act that threatens to split and destroy the entire nation.
The queen’s last act before her death was to name her loyal companion, the palace scholar Lysande Prior, Councillor. As Councillor, it is Lysande’s duty to choose the next ruler of Elira from the four city rulers and to ensure a peaceful transition of power. As the city rulers arrive at the palace, Lysande is convinced that one of them may have orchestrated the Iron Queen’s murder. Using her position as Councillor and the upcoming decisions around Elira’s future to her advantage, Lysande begins to investigate each of the city rulers to find who is responsible for her friend’s death.
As the investigation continues, Lysande soon learns much about the city rulers, including the secrets that they harbour. Forced to balance her investigation with her responsibilities to the people, Lysande begins to revel in the power that she has been granted, even as her problematic addiction to a magical narcotic threatens her self-control. However, the closer she gets to the truth, the more Lysande begins to understand that there is a dark threat rising, one that could overwhelm Elira for good. The White Queen is returning, and this time there is no mighty Iron Queen to stop her, only a brilliant scholar with a bright vision for her nation.
The Councillor was an impressive debut fantasy novel from Beaton, who combines some intriguing characters with a powerful fantasy narrative laden with political intrigue, espionage and one character’s personal journey from scholar to ruler.
Beaton utilises a pretty awesome story in The Councillor, and it is one that I quickly became quite addicted to. Told exclusively from the point-of-view of protagonist Lysande, the novel has a powerful start with one of the major characters killed off, leaving Lysande and the entire nation in chaos, especially as it appears that a notorious magical villain has returned years after her famous defeat. From there the protagonist attempts to identify the agent responsible for her friend’s death, believing it to be one of the four arriving nobles vying for the throne. This results in a compelling storyline where Lysande investigates the secrets of the city rulers, while also becoming increasingly involved in the politics of the realm after being unexpectedly placed in a position of power. As The Councillor progresses, it evolves into a very captivating piece of political intrigue as Lysande and the city rulers tour the country, attempting to rule together, initiate plans to stop the growing influence of the White Queen, while also attempting to achieve their own goals. There are some great misdirects and red herrings featured throughout this part of the book, as Beaton attempts to disguise who the antagonist is and what the agendas of the various other politicians are. This all leads up to a big and explosive conclusion where the traitor is revealed and several great storylines come together, resulting in some awesome action and clever political storylines. While I was able to guess who the traitor was in advance, Beaton did a great job setting them up, and I did find the methods of the antagonist very surprising, especially the fun super-weapon that was hinted at throughout the book. The final scenes wrap up the entire narrative extremely well and do a great job setting up the next novel in the series. I look forward to seeing where the narrative goes from here and I think that the series has some amazing potential.
I really enjoyed the cool and memorable fantasy world that Beaton introduced in her first novel, and it serves as a great setting for the awesome story. The nation of Elira is broken up into several distinctive political and climate zones, based around a city state, resulting in fascinating group of different and proud people. I loved the fun blend of cultures featured within this nation, especially as it results in some compelling and entertaining cultural and political clashes. There is a great focus on the history of Elira, especially as it relates to the previous war against the White Queen, with the scholar protagonist attempts to uncover the full truth behind the past to determine the country’s future. There are also a ton of LGBT+ elements associated with the setting, which I really appreciated and which helped to make the setting even richer. Add to that several hostile nations surrounding Elira, a rampaging magical queen full of vengeance, and a covert network of independent magical users with their own agenda, and you have a fantastic combination of groups and political ideals, which helps to makes the compelling narrative even more exciting. This all proves to be pretty damn awesome, especially as Beaton does a wonderful job describing the rich and vibrant countryside of her setting, allowing the reader to have an outstanding time exploring this new nation. I really enjoyed this captivating setting and I look forward to seeing how the author expands it in her next novel.
Easily the best thing about The Councillor are the complex and intense characters featured throughout the story. This includes main protagonist Lysande, who is forced to endure quite a lot of growth and betrayal during the story. Beaton weaves a powerful and intense narrative around Lysande, an orphan who was chosen to become the Iron Queen’s companion and who grew into a brilliant scholar and thinker. After the queen’s death, Lysande is forced to become both a ruler and politician, and she finds herself excelling in the role, especially as it allows her to use her skills as a scholar and researcher to her advantage. Due to Lysande being the point-of-view protagonist, Beaton takes a lot of time exploring her personality, feelings, and history, and it does not take long for the reader to become attached to her, especially as she finds herself in a dangerous and complex personal and political situation. It proved to be extremely compelling to see Lysade take the political stage for the first time, and I loved the way she adapted to the intrigue and deceit, especially once she started to revel in it. It was pretty cool to see a scholar attempt to take the throne, resulting in a very different hero from what most fantasy fans would expect. I also enjoyed the way that the author ensured that Lysande is a bit of a flawed protagonist, especially as she is controlled by her addiction to Chimera Scale, a magical narcotic that gives her energy and different insights to the world. This growing reliance on Chimera Scale impacts her severely throughout the novel, especially as it covers up some deeper secrets about her, which come to fore later in the novel. An overall exceptional main character, I am very intrigued about where this story will take Lysande next.
Aside from Lysande, The Councillor features a fantastic collection of supporting characters, each of whom add a lot the story. The main four supporting characters are the city rulers who arrive in court to put their cases for being the next monarch. Beaton spends a bit of time building up each character, and it proves quite enjoyable learning their flaws, personalities and secrets, especially as any of them could potentially be villainous. The most prominent of these city rulers is the mysterious and manipulative Luca Fontaine, a dangerous bastard son who became city ruler after killing his family. Presented as a dark figure with a love of intrigue, espionage and advanced politics, Fontaine has some outstanding back and forth with Lysande, which were extremely enthralling and compelling, and Fontaine swiftly becomes one of the more entertaining and likeable characters in the novel. I did think that Beaton could have toned down Fontain’s manipulative side just a little, especially as it made him too obvious a suspect for being the traitor, however, I don’t think this had too much of a negative impact on the narrative. Aside from the city rulers, the book has some interesting focus on Lysande’s advisors and guards, each of whom hep her in their own unique way. I particularly enjoyed Lysande’s new maid, Litany, especially once her real purpose in the court is revealed. This great supporting cast proves to be a lot of fun to follow, and I really appreciated the time and detail that the author put into setting them up.
Overall, I found The Councillor to be an outstanding and deeply entertaining fantasy read with a really addictive and compelling narrative. Australian author E. J. Beaton did an excellent job with her first book, and this is a must read for anyone who loves a fantasy tale laden with clever political intrigue. A highly recommend fantasy debut, I cannot wait to see where Beaton takes this series next.