Judged by Steph • find her on Goodreads
So I’m going to be 100% honest and say that the two books I was given, King of Shadows and The King of Attolia, I would have never picked up on my own. Partly because I am not a huge fantasy/adventure reader (the only ones I read are at the recs of friends) and partly because I wasn’t too impressed with either book’s inside cover blurb when I read it (The King of Attolia just confused me). That said, I ended up enjoying both books to different extents.
King of Shadows is about eleven year-old Nat, an aspiring theater actor who wakes up one morning and realizes he has gone back four hundred years in time to 1599 and has to act alongside William Shakespeare (!!!). And yes, Nat is just as freaked out about that time jump (and Shakespeare) as you would imagine. Nat is really personable and I really grew to like him by the time I finished reading. I will admit that I found the book a bit slow with too many characters in both centuries, and the explanation for his time travel jump at the end made me squint a bit as well. I think twelve-year-old me would have liked this book a lot more than current me (if that makes sense), and so I closed this book with a skeptical face more than anything else. However, I will say that scene with young Nate sobbing in Shakespeare’s arms just did me in. Just did me in, I tell you. (It also made me want to gave Shakespeare a hug because, wow, what a nice man to comfort a little boy so out of place.)
He put his arm over my shoulders and gave me a quick hug. And to my absolute horror, I fell apart. It was the sudden warmth and sympathy, the fact that somebody understood – and not just anybody, but him. I heard myself give a great big ugly snorting sob, and suddenly, hating it, I was in a flood of tears.
Will Shakespeare was astonished and probably appalled. By accident, he’d released and emotional overload far bigger than he expected –and far bigger than I could ever explain to him. Not that he have a thought to explanation; he sat down abruptly on the stage, pulling me down with him, and sat there with his back against the great wooden pillar while I sobbed into his shoulder. He didn’t try to stop me; he just waited, patting me gently, saying softly once in a while, like a mother to a very small child, “There. There now.”
The King of Attolia is the third book in series of four. It is about a thief who marries the Queen of a neighboring country and is now King. Okay, so I will admit I did not realize that it was part of a series until after I started reading and at first I was all, “Why, Beth, why?” because I hate jumping into series out of order, but then I sucked it up like the mature adult I am (ahem) and I just kept reading without trying to figure out who is who/what happened in the first two novels, do I like the King/do I not, etc. It actually worked out really well, a lot better than I thought at first, because this book takes place (mostly) through the eyes of a third party, a young guard named Costis, who gets sucked into being the new King’s personal guard and ends up with the same questions as me: “What is up with this new King? Is he as stupid as he seems? Does he love the Queen? Did he force her to marry him?” So with no knowledge of the previous books, I took this journey alongside Costis as he tried to figure out those answers.
AND OHMYGOSH YOU GUYS. OHMYGOSH.
I feel like I should preface this whole upcoming paragraph with the fact that happily married couples are a favorite trope of mine. Like, seriously. And they are rare to find in fiction because nobody writes after the wedding because who wants boring marital adorableness like that? (Um, me.) So halfway through the book, after an assassination attempt, we got this moment and I FREAKED OUT.
The king lifted a hand to her cheek and kissed her. It was not a kiss between strangers, not even a kiss between a bride and a groom. It was a kiss between a man and his wife, and when it was over, the king closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the hollow of the queen’s shoulder, like a man seeking respite, like a man reaching home at the end of the day.
Yep, there is love and affection between these two (!!!). I love that the reader realizes that alongside Costis. I don’t want to give away too many details, but there is one scene where the queen tells Costis that the king didn’t marry her to become King. He wanted to marry her and he became King by default. (I’m sorry, but the romantic, Disney-princess-loving sap in me LOVED that.) So this book is about the two of them and Costis and the rest of the royal household and neighboring people trying to figure out the true colors of the king, and where he stands in relation to his wife, and where his loyalties lie, and hers, etc. It’s really well written, and character building happens which I LOVE, and that is why I am choosing this book to advance to the next round. Because come on, royal marrieds through the eyes of a third party is not as creepy as it sounds!
Congratulations to The King of Attolia, which moves on to Round 2!