War of the Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

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Publisher: Hyperion (Hardcover – 4 June 2019)

Series: Royal Bastards trilogy – Book 3/Final

Length: 392 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

War, rebellion, magic and one hell of kickass story! Shvarts brings the outstanding Royal Bastards trilogy to an end with War of the Bastards, the relentlessly entertaining conclusion that rounds out the series with an epic bang. The Royal Bastards trilogy is the debut work of author Andrew Shvarts, who has produced an incredible young adult fantasy series that has been an absolute delight to read over the last three years. Set in the fantasy nation of Noveris, the series follows the adventures of its protagonist, Tilla, and her friends as they try to navigate the treachery and war that has engulfed their nation.

I had an absolute blast reading the second book in the trilogy, City of Bastards, last year. Not only did the book feature a compelling story style and an amazingly captivating plot, but it ended with an outstanding cliff hanger with the protagonist failing to stop the antagonist’s sinister plot, which results in the entire royal family being killed off and the enemy gaining control of the throne. This was such an epic ending, especially because the massacre of the entire royal family was just so unexpected (I really was expecting a last-minute rescue from the protagonists), and I have been extremely curious to see how this story ended for quite a while.

It has been a year since the destructive events that changed Noveris forever. After orchestrating the explosion that decimated the royal court of Noveris, killing the King and Queen and most of Noveris’s nobles, Lord Elric Kent has assumed the throne. With a huge number of powerful bloodmages under the command of his ruthless Inquisitor, Miles Hampstedt, Kent’s rule over Noveris looks to be nearly absolute. However, many are still fighting back against the despotic new rule, including Kent’s bastard daughter, Tilla.

Tilla is a member of the resistance group known as the Unbroken, which fights to return Tilla’s friend, the rightful Queen, Lyriana Volaris, back to the throne. With the help of her lover, Zell, and Lyriana’s cousin, Ellarion, Tilla and the Unbroken are engaged in a brutal guerrilla war against the new regime. However, the situation looks dire and victory near impossible to achieve, until a mission to rescue a major source of rebel intelligence reveals that their informant was none other than King Kent himself. Kent’s rule has been usurped by Miles, whose absolute control over the bloodmages has allowed him to take over Noveris without anyone noticing. While attempting to deal with the implications of capturing Tilla’s father, the Unbroken also free Syan Syee, a young woman from the Red Wastes with mysterious magical powers, who brings an urgent message to the people of Noveris. Syan warns of a coming apocalypse and believes that defeating Miles is the key to stopping it. Needing new allies, Tilla, Lyriana, Zell, Ellarion, Kent and Syan journey to the Red Wastes, hoping to recruit Syan’s people to their cause. However, what they discover in the Red Wastes will change everything. With this new knowledge, can Tilla and her friends save Noveris, or will Miles’s lust for power and control tear their world apart?

Before I started reading this book, I honestly thought that Shvarts was going to have an extremely hard time matching the awesomeness of City of Bastards. However, I am pleased to report that War of the Bastards is an incredible and massively compelling read that I enjoyed just as much as the second book in the series. While it may lack the shocking cliff hanger ending of City of Bastards, War of the Bastards has an excellent fast-paced story that proves extremely hard to put down once you start.

I really loved the story contained within War of the Bastards and felt that it was an amazing conclusion to the trilogy. The tale of an epic battle to free a kingdom is a classic, but the author has put some fantastic modern twists on it, and his entertaining writing style and dedication to bringing out huge moments, really turns this into something special. Shvarts has included a number of cool twists and turns throughout this book, and I really liked where the story went at times. There was also a slight turn away from fantasy towards another genre about two-thirds through the story that proved to be a bit surprising, but I found it to be an interesting addition to the story. Without giving too much away, I was very satisfied with the clever way that the antagonist was taken down at the end of the book, and it was a nice call-back to earlier events in the series. I really enjoyed how this story turned out, and it was an outstanding conclusion to the epic tale that had been told throughout the Royal Bastards trilogy.

In the previous books in the series, the author tended to only set the story in one general setting, such as the West for the first book and the Lightspire for the second book. In War of the Bastards, Shvarts continues to expand on his fantasy world, but this time he takes his characters to several new locations that had been alluded to in the other books. The story starts in the Heartlands and focuses on the characters fighting their guerrilla war there. This land has been transformed by the oppression of Kent and Miles, and it was intriguing to see how bad things had gotten under their rule. The protagonists also journey through the Southlands and the Red Wastes, both of which are pretty fascinating and distinctive locales. The Red Wastes was definitely the most unique location, ravaged by terrifying magical storms and featuring interesting new civilisation. Overall, these new locations are pretty cool, and readers will enjoy exploring more of this great fantasy world.

One of the major strengths of Shvarts’s previous books has been the excellent character work. Each of the major characters has gone through tremendous growth through the course of the first two books, and this growth has continued through the course of War of the Bastards. Tilla has gone from being two different types of social outcast (a bastard in the first book and a traitor’s daughter in the second) to a respected rebel warrior fighting the good fight. However, despite knowing she is fighting for what is right, Tilla is not natural killer and has to constantly deal with the guilt of her actions, keeping a running mental count of all those she has killed. She also has to finally come to terms with her strained relationship with her father once he joins them on their quest. Due to her status as a bastard, her father has always kept a certain distance with her. Now, with him joining their band, Tilla is forced to have several emotional confrontations with him over the terrible things he has done in previous books and how he treated her in the past. This results in some dramatic moments within the book, and the exploration of their relationship makes for great reading. Tilla still serves as the book’s narrator and point-of-view character, and it is through her eyes that we see the story unfold. This is extremely fortunate, as her sassy and sarcastic outlook on the events occurring around her leads to a lot of the book’s humour. All in all, I have always found Tilla to be a pretty awesome main character, and it was great to see how her story ended.

In addition to Tilla, the other three main characters from the previous Royal Bastards books all get great character arcs within this book. Lyriana spends this book as the Queen in exile of her people and is burdened with the responsibility of being a figurehead. However, she rises to the challenge and proves herself to be powerful badass and war leader thanks to her epic magical abilities. This was a massive change in her character from the second book, where she was devastated with loss and trauma, and it was great to see her at her full potential. Readers will also like the new relationship she finds herself in, and it was nice to see her finally get some emotional happiness. I would say that Zell is character least utilised in this book, but we do get to witness him trying to come to terms with guilt from the previous book thanks to the inadvertent role he had in facilitating the massacre. The character most impacted by the events of the previous book is Ellarion, Lyriana’s cousin and the most powerful magician in the lands. He lost his hands at the end of City of Bastards when defending his friends from the massive explosion and must now learn how to live without them and, more importantly, the magic they allowed him to perform. Shvarts did an amazing job portraying Ellarion’s despair at his situation and the longing he has for his lost magical arts. Some interesting things happen to him in this book and he has a major moment that readers will absolutely love.

Two new characters join the main characters in this book: Syan from the Red Wastes and Tilla’s father, Lord Kent. Syan is a pretty cool lesbian character who has some significant secrets in her past. Shvarts does a great job telling her entire story within this one book, and I found her to be quite an enjoyable character. Lord Kent was another fantastic addition to the main group of protagonists. While he has appeared in both of the previous books in the trilogy, we have never really gotten his side of the story before. In addition to all the drama surrounding his relationship with Tilla, we also get to see his motivations for his actions, as well as the regret for what he has brought about. I really liked the inclusion of Kent in War of the Bastards and thought it was a clever touch from Shvarts because of all the extra emotional complexities and drama he brings to the story.

I should quickly mention the main antagonist of this book, Miles. Miles has always been a pretty unlikeable character, especially after betraying the group in the first book due to his jealousy over Tilla choosing Zell. Shvarts really makes him even more despicable in War of the Bastards by showing him as the facilitator of all the worst things that have been done in Noveris in the last year. Later confrontations with him reveal that he has no remorse and really does not see himself as the bad guy. His continued obsession with Tilla is pretty messed up (cough, harem, cough), but I do like how that was used against him at times. Overall, Miles makes for an excellent series villain, and Shvarts did an amazing job utilising him in this final book.

The author has a very creative mind when it comes to the magic and fantasy elements contained within this series. The magical abilities and rules that govern the lands of Noveris are extremely interesting and have led to some impressive magical destruction and battles in the past. Shvarts continues to do this in the final book, and the exploration of the origins of magic and the devastating consequences of using it are really fascinating. Shvarts came up with some cool and unique new magical abilities in War of the Bastards, especially for the magic utilised by the people of the Red Wastes. The author has been really creative in this final book, and I am sure readers will like some of the ideas he comes up with.

Like the previous books in the series, War of the Bastards is being marketed towards the young adult audience. However, it should only really be read by the older teen audience, as it features a lot of adult content. While it does not have as much sex, drugs and drinking as City of Bastards did, it does feature a heck of a lot more violence, and some of the action scenes are pretty gruesome. This does mean the book is really easy for older readers to enjoy, and I would strongly recommend this to all adult fantasy readers.

While I am sad to see the Royal Bastards series end, War of the Bastards was such an incredible conclusion to the story that it does not seem too devastating. Due to its near perfect blend of electrifying story content, excellent characters and entertaining writing style, I found that it was near impossible to put War of the Bastards down, and I had an amazing time reading it. This is easily a five-star read, and I reckon this is my favourite young adult book of 2019 so far. With his debut trilogy, Andrew Shvarts has shown himself to be an extremely talented author, and I will be eagerly keeping an eye out for his next series.

The Chaos of Now by Erin Lange

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Publisher: Faber & Faber

Publication Date – 2 October 2018

 

From one of the most intriguing authors of modern young adult fiction comes this powerful story about bullying in the modern cyber world and the potential impacts our choices can have on those around us.

One year ago, a student at Haver High, Jordan Bishop, walked into the school cafeteria and committed suicide by setting himself on fire, a reaction to the relentless online bullying he was experiencing.  Since that event, life at Haver High has not been the same.  Not only do the scars of Jordan’s actions remain but radical legislation brought in to combat cyberbullying ensure that students’ online lives are openly monitored by federal cybersnoops.

Eli Bennett is a young hacker who is desperate to graduate and leave town in order escape his father and his father’s new girlfriend, Misty.  Eli is happy enough at school with his only friend, Zach, although he wouldn’t mind getting to know the beautiful Isabel.  But when he is approached by fellow hackers Seth and Mouse, he finds himself drawn into an entirely new challenge.  Seth and Mouse were Jordan’s friends, but have had to keep their relationship with him a secret to avoid backlash from the other students.  Desperate to get some sort of justice for their fallen comrade, they are seeking a way to get back at those students who drove Jordan to kill himself.  Their idea is to create a website where Jordan’s bullies can be publicly shamed, and they need Eli to make it untraceable to the authorities.  Despite being haunted by a previous hacking mistake, Eli agrees to help, interested in the potential of this sort of website.

Calling the website ‘Friends of Bishop’, the site provides the students of Haver High with an anonymous forum to post videos about bad behaviour in the school.  With the help of a few bombshell videos, the site becomes a hit, and Eli and his friends believe they are making some real changes.  With the cybersnoops desperately try to shut down the site, the hidden Friends of Bishop revel in their notoriety and the praise of many of their classmates.  But when their quest for justice takes a nasty turn, Eli finds himself facing the real-world consequences of his actions and must try and work out what the right thing to do is.

The Chaos of Now is the fourth book from the talented and at times controversial young adult author, Erin Lange.  Lange is probably best known for her 2012 debut novel, Butter, which focused on a bullied obese boy’s plan to eat himself to death on a live internet broadcast.  Her next two books, Dead Ends and Rebel, Bully, Geek, Pariah also looked at the lives of socially isolated high school students, as well as the consequences of bullying behaviour.  The Chaos of Now takes a deeper focus on extreme cyberbullying and the potential impacts it can have.  I absolutely enjoyed The Chaos of Now and powered through it in less than a day as I became absorbed in its fantastic narrative, its emotional and moral heart and its very intriguing elements and warnings.

This book contains a poignant and well-thought-out story that takes its protagonist on a captivating adventure as he is faced with a series of moral dilemmas and explores the resultant consequences of his decisions on himself and those around him.  There are some incredible emotional scenes as the main characters examine their anger, grief, guilt and internal moral compasses when they look back at what they did or what they failed to do.  There is also a heartrending plot twist towards the end of the book which paints the entire narrative in a completely new light while also upping the stakes for the protagonist and his friends.

At the centre of this incredible book lies a powerful message about the modern epidemic of cyberbullying and the dangers of our modern computer based world.  Within the context of the story, the protagonist is drawn into a quest for justice after a young man who is bullied online commits suicide.  The architects of this revenge are the victim’s friends, who feel guilty for not standing up for their friend and not coming forward after his death.  As part of their quest, they create an anonymous website where embarrassing and incriminating videos can be posted about the people who drove Jordan to commit suicide, as well as videos about any other bullies or people the protagonists believe need to be taken down a peg.  Lange does an incredible job exploring all the aspect of this cyberbullying, from an examination of the events that led up to Jacob’s suicide to the impacts of the posted videos on the people they are shaming.  Lange does not try to shape this as a black and white issue; instead, everything that occurs has the potential for negative consequences.  For example, throughout the course of the book, the protagonists post several videos, each of which appears to have different levels of embarrassing or incriminating footage.  While the potential impacts of some of these videos appear to be minor, some are later revealed to have major consequences for the people involved.  At the same time, the more explicit videos have huge, life-altering consequences for the people involved.  Through the course of her narrative, Lange shows the full effect of these videos, whether they are extreme or seemingly innocuous, and shows how the people’s lives are affected and how other people treat them because of what is revealed.  Often these outcomes are quite devastating, and the protagonists, having become cyberbullies themselves, are left examining whether their victims actually deserved to have their lives ruined in this way, and if their actions can truly be considered justice.  The final message of this book, that cyberbullying or any form of negative online actions can have severe and often unforeseen consequences, is quite powerful, and I thought that Lange did an incredible job highlighting this throughout her novel.

Another intriguing part of this book is the extreme way the government attempts to deal with the problem of cyberbullying.  In this book, following the extreme suicide of Jordan, the government introduces harsh and controlling rules about internet privacy for students and gives government officers known as cybersnoops the ability to monitor everything young people do on the internet.  This is a thought-provoking reaction, and one that could potentially be used in the real world to address the problem of cyberbullying.  Readers will be interested to see Lange’s thoughts on such a program being introduced and how the youth impacted by it may react.  The resultant story comes across as a cautionary tale.  While more needs to be done to combat the issues of cyberbullying, Lange’s stories suggests that certain approaches could be just as problematic, as many of the protagonist’s actions are as a result of the restrictions imposed upon them.

I really enjoyed the coding aspects of this book, and it was fascinating to see the various computer and coding terms included throughout the story.  Lange’s ensures that these technical aspects are explained to the reader in a clear and concise manner so that even technical luddites like this reviewer are able to have a good understanding of what is going on in the story.  Readers of The Chaos of Now should also take note of the various ways in which the internet or someone’s personal electronic devices can be used against them, and is definitely an informative inclusion.

Lange’s focus on her protagonist’s personal relationships is another great part of this book, and provides an invaluable social heart to this novel.  At the start of the book, Eli only has one friend, Zach, a fellow coder who serves as Eli’s social and hacking conscience.  When Eli makes friends with Seth and Mouse, he is happy to have new friends and works with them on their website.  But, as the book progresses, Eli’s relationship with Zach suffers as he constantly hides his dodgy actions with the Friends of Bishop website.  It is interesting to see how Eli is forced to assume the more moral and cautious role with Seth and Mouse, who are much more obsessed with revenge than Eli is.  Having assumed this role, Eli feels a lot more guilt for the group’s actions, as he knows he should do more to curtail their more reckless actions.  This is further compounded when Eli gets angry and momentarily abandons his moral position, and the resultant actions cause significant harm.  The later part of the relationship with Seth and Mouse is very intense and contains one hell of a climactic scene.  The Chaos of Now also contains the heart-warming story of the growing relationship between Eli and his father’s girlfriend, Misty, who becomes one of the most likable characters in the entire book.  I also enjoyed the relationship between Eli and the bully Malcolm who Eli has several negative encounters with at the start of the book.  While Eli at first wants to destroy him like the other bullies at Haver High, his discovery of Malcolm’s deeper problems and the future awaiting him makes Eli rethink his position.  This focus on the protagonist’s relationships is an extraordinary part of the book, which weaves into the story very well and plays a big part in the protagonist’s decisions and actions.

The Chaos of Now is a great piece of young adult fiction that provides an amazing insight into one of the key issues affecting the youth of today.  With some mature themes, this book is definitely intended for the slightly older teen audience and is probably most appropriate for high school students who are a similar age to the characters of this book.  As this book provides an intriguing and powerful insight into the modern day issue of cyberbullying and presents a look at the extreme consequences that could result from these actions, I would strongly recommend it to these students, as they would be most interested in the message and story that it contains.  While not intended for older readers, the content of this book is instantly relatable for anyone who has ever been to high school and is aware of the current issues surrounding cyberbullying and problems with the internet.

Lange has created a terrific book which I felt covered some of the issues around cyberbullying perfectly.  Featuring a heartfelt and at times crushing story that tries to understand the different sides of this complex problem, this is another superb and memorable release from an incredible young adult fiction author.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars