“Traitors of the Black Crown” by Cate Pearce is a wonderful sapphic fantasy romance, and a revenge story that doesn’t turn out quite like you would expect. Thank you to Netgalley and Hansen House Books for the advance reader copy. This book releases September 22, 2021, and is available for preorder.
This is the epic tale of Raena Schinen, whose father was accused of treason against the black crown. Queen Zarana ordered the slaughter of her whole family, but Raena escaped; so she posed as a man and a knight, and traded Raena for Sir Rowan of Hawks’ Keep. From the beginning, her life was consumed by thoughts of revenge. The story opens with Raena and best friend Finn joining the Knights’ Trial, a contest spearheaded by Prince Zander. But the Trials were not just for show this year; they used real weapons and were expected to deal out real violence.
So, the two quick-thinking knights found a workaround; they jumped the castle walls to avoid the worst of the bloodshed. But this clever ruse to save their skins was not seen kindly by the sociopathic Prince, who banished Sir Rowan to East Shore to serve common-born Duchess Aven, and Finn was assigned to serve the Prince. But things kept shifting as the Prince’s behavior grew ever more erratic, Queen Zarana now plotted against her own son, and romance developed between the Duchess and her newest Knight.
I really enjoyed this story, enough so that I’m interested in purchasing a physical copy. It was a breath of fresh air at a time when we need escapism into fantasy worlds. Details like battle tactics and even the food that is served were clearly well researched and provided color to the story. I was intrigued by the author’s grasp of gender and gender expression in this story in the form of Raena vs. Rowan; the use of pronoun and identity switching was cleverly done.
I felt the writing voice and dialogue was a bit awkward and stiff in the first part of the book, but as the romance blossomed between Raena and Aven, the author really found her groove and there were several shining flashes of prose. I didn’t care for the character of Prince Zander; I know we are supposed to find him unlikable as the penultimate villain, but I usually like to be able to understand the motives and backstory of villains. Without giving spoilers I liked the device of getting into the point of view of Zarana; her relationship with her son did help me understand Zander better. He seemed at times like a caricature of a villain, although of course we know someone like that in real life in the form of a certain former American president.
Overall, I was really rooting for Raena and Aven; their slow-burning and tender romance is the best part of this story. This was a fun, flirty, feminist take on your typical fantasy epics, with some fast-moving political intrigue and a strong cast of characters. I’d read book two of the series.
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