Synopsis: This Machiavellian fantasy follows a scholar’s quest to choose the next ruler of her kingdom amidst lies, conspiracy, and assassination.
When the death of Iron Queen Sarelin Brey fractures the realm of Elira, Lysande Prior, the palace scholar and the queen’s closest friend, is appointed Councillor. Publically, Lysande must choose the next monarch from amongst the city-rulers vying for the throne. Privately, she seeks to discover which ruler murdered the queen, suspecting the use of magic.
Resourceful, analytical, and quiet, Lysande appears to embody the motto she was raised with: everything in its place. Yet while she hides her drug addiction from her new associates, she cannot hide her growing interest in power. She becomes locked in a game of strategy with the city-rulers – especially the erudite prince Luca Fontaine, who seems to shift between ally and rival.
Further from home, an old enemy is stirring: the magic-wielding White Queen is on the move again, and her alliance with a traitor among the royal milieu poses a danger not just to the peace of the realm, but to the survival of everything that Lysande cares about.
In a world where the low-born keep their heads down, Lysande must learn to fight an enemy who wears many guises… even as she wages her own battle between ambition and restraint.
Release: 2nd March 2021
22/25 (88%) 4.5 stars.
Buckle up and fasten your seat belt, folks, cause I’m about to demand a HYPE for this.
Question: What do The Lies of Locke Lamora and The Name of the Wind have in common? Hm? Any idea? The answer is: they’re the only fantasy debuts I’ve ever read that are better than this book. So this should tell you enough about my admiration for E.J. Beaton’s brilliant writing already – I do have some tiny complaints, but they’re on a level where I mostly don’t care about them at all because they’re so tiny that most people maybe won’t even care about them at all. Anyway: this is my candidate for best debut novel of the year. Yes, I know, this year does have ten more months but I’m not seeing anything that could come close. Let’s get into why this is excellent, okay?
‚The Councillor‘ is a mixture of truly outstanding writing, an incredibly well fleshed-out, flawed protagonist, and a perfectly constructed plot. How does the author achieve that? How does she manage to live up to that incredibly promising synopsis that made me pick this up?
The short answer is that E.J. Beaton simply does everything right. She just doesn’t make mistakes, there aren’t any of the pet peeves other authors have like deus ex machina or invincible protagonists, there aren’t things that don’t make sense.
Example: when a character dies, their friends don’t stop in the middle of a battle to mourn them. This is a thing that often keeps going on my nerves: there’s a battle going on, your enemies don’t wait for you to mourn your friend, okay? They just don’t do that. So Beaton doesn’t do that. Yes, you get the shock, you get the sadness, but the battle goes on.
But let’s get to the good and the bad, shall we? The first good thing I have to mention about this books is the writing. It’s excellent. Period. Don’t try to argue that point with me, I’m not even discussing it. Beaton has found the perfect mixture in terms of writing: not too flowery and not too minimalistic. It’s measured perfectly: descriptions, Lysande’s thoughts and dialogue keep interchanging in just the way it should be.
The way this is told is abslutely flawless, the way Beaton inserts Lysande’s voice and perspective into this book is just impressive. Not just for a debut author but for an author in general. Beaton delivers everything just where it should be, both the concrete things we want to know in a special scene and also the overarching threads that keep this book together are placed perfectly. Here’s an example of how she paints a setting:
The ceremonial lane through the city had disappeared, replaced by a mishmash of traders, and a throng engulfed them as they reached the west side of the city. Lyrians flowed around them, carrying baskets of chilies or rice; bankers glided past on open palanquins, athletic-looking staff in scant clothing keeping them company. While attendants hurried between mules and street-traders with parcels and small sacks, nobles stopped to talk and laugh without any regard for the crowds. To be human was common, Lysande thought, but to be seen as human was a luxury that only certain could afford, and it seemed no cheaper here. It was almost impossible for their party to navigate without hitting some merchant or messenger: if Rhime had been madcap, this was pure, unadulterated chaos, without any pretense of direction.
If you’ve read the synopsis, then you know what to expect: this isn’t action-packed, but rather focuses on politics and the relationships between the characters. And while it excels at that, it also excels at the action scenes. There aren’t many of them, but oh boy, Beaton can write action scenes. Basically, she can write anything… apart from the transitions between chapters, maybe. There are two tiny critiques I have to make in terms of the writing: These transitions between the chapters could be better. Because, as Petrik has rightfully mentioned in his review: these chapters are very long. This entire book consists of just fifteen chapters and the transitions between them aren’t as elaborate as they should be. Basically, each of these chapters focuses on a single big event – and then in the next chapter, we’re somewhere else. Yes, we get to know how Lysande came to be there, but I think the transitions between most of these chapters are too abrupt. They’re not episodical, but it’s a bit… abrupt. Not a lot, just a tiny bit, mind you.
Next good thing: characters. Beaton shows us this story through the eyes of a single protagonist and… that’s an excellent choice! Lysande is a reader for readers, clever and witty, but not too much. Also, she has flaws that keep her grounded, good work, Ms. Beaton, good work. Really well done. The side characters are well-constructed as well. I always knew who everybody was so obviously Beaton managed to portray them as unique personalities.
“When you’re one of us, Prior, and you have eyes upon you every day, it’s as if you’re walking on a pond in winter,” Luca said. “The ice has frozen just enough to venture out. At any moment, it might crack, and send you plunging down below. So you walk carefully; you take ginger steps, and if you reach out to hold another’s hand, your fate becomes bound up with theirs. If they fall, you fall. If they make it across, you do too.”
Also really well done: the setting. Nicey, nicey. The setting in a nutshell: medieval/Renaissance setting with gender equality and no homophobia. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t any bad -isms going on: there are many stereotypes between the indivual parts of Elira, and there’s also a big, fat lot of racism against folks who can do magic (Elementals). That racism is connected to the intriguing backstory of Beaton’s plot: years ago, there was an Elemental uprising which resulted in a lot of bloodshed. In the end, the ’normal‘ people won and the Elemental leader, the White Queen, disappeared. Since then, the various city rulers‘ different approaches to Elementals have been a reason for conflict: some of them simply eradicate them all, other wish to ally with them. This overarching conflict is perfecty interlaced with Lysande’s big inner conflict.
Lysanne’s inner conflict summed up: she was raised by the Queen who won the war against the Elementals and who now keeps executing every single one of them. On the other hand, Lysanne’s best friend is an Elemental… and the scholarly Lysande also isn’t very fond of executing people just for being born as different – so she tries to use her new station of power to make things better for everyone.
“Changes are a tricky business.” Derset’s tone was still hard stone, but there was an edge to it: an urgency that implored her. “You can cut away all the roses in the garden, but you’ll prick your fingers on those thorns.”
Plot: perfectly constructed, some small conveniences, nothing terrible. It has a huge twist which I saw coming before but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this in any way. The dialgues are excellent as well, but sometimes a little too… pompous or artificial in some scenes for me.
To sum it all up: this is an incredibly impressive book. It deserves far, far more attention than it has got so far. So I’m hereby officially requesting a hype.
This is an excellent debut with a queer protagonist in a queer setting with amazing characters and just the right amount of worldbuilding. So many authors overburden their readers with extensive world-building and info-dumps in their first installment of a series – Beaton hasn’t. E.J. Beaton has the increbile talent to measure everything she uses in her storytelling. There’s not too much or too less of anything, everything is in its place. To be honest, I was a little afraid to read this because I’ve never been as hyped by a synopsis before. And this hasn’t promised too much: I’ll definitely pick up the sequel and everything else E.J. Beaton decides to write. Highly recommend this one to anyone who likes intrigues, a well-constructed plot and excellent writing.
Writing Style 4
Many thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this masterpiece in exchange for an honest review.