Synopsis: An abused boy discovers he’s the heir to an empire, and learns that Friendship Is Magic.
Book Review: The strength of this book is its characters. They are superbly fleshed out and feel like real, complex people. Their interactions are realistic and compelling. This is particularly true of Addison’s portrayal of the protagonist (Maia), an abused young man. You strongly identify with him, and feel his trauma. It is emotional and touching and exquisitely well written.
Furthermore, Maia is extremely likable. You can’t help but fall in love with him. He’s relatable, and kind, and unsure, and doing the best he can, and the whole court is against him, and you want to see him survive and succeed.
The biggest weakness of this book is that Katherine loved her protagonist too much and decided to make a happy fairy tale for him. The core conflict of this book is Maia vs his drunken, abusive caretaker (Setheris). When it’s discovered Maia’s the new Emperor and they are both whisked away to the capital, you see this dynamic taking it’s true shape – now Maia has the power to punish Setheris, but Setheris is a disgraced noble and wise in the ways of the court, and immediately starts instructing Maia in what he must do to survive. He becomes Maia’s only lifeline in an environment of deadly court intrigue, and the naïve Maia has to rely on him as much as he hates him, etc etc.
…Except that doesn’t happen. Very quickly after the novel begins this action stops, Setheris is ushered off the stage, and we never see him again. This happens fairly early in the book. The entire emotional thrust of the story is neutered, and is never replaced by anything compelling.
After that point NOTHING HAPPENS EVER AGAIN. Every conflict that’s introduced is immediately resolved. Maia is unfailingly kind and gentle with everyone, and very earnest in all his dealings. He wins over everyone because he’s such a nice guy, and all of his problems are solved due to how much everyone comes to love him. Every single chapter is basically Maia demonstrating how kind he is, having heartfelt conversations with people, and winning their admiration. This goes on for over 300 pages. It was insufferably boring, and by the end I was only reading a handful of sentences from each page. This would have made a fantastic novelette. Drawing this out into a full-length novel was not a wise choice. If this book could be summarized by quoting a character within it, it would be “You must learn to take care, Serenity, lest we wear your ears out with our endless talking.” Not Recommended.
Book Club Review: I don’t have much to add. Some people will like the book quite a bit just because Maia is so nice and relatable. Everyone can joke about the ridiculous number of extremely similar names, but in the end there isn’t much to talk about. We spent most of the time talking about other goings-on in our lives, and the SF world in general. I don’t see how this would be a conversation starter, so Not Recommended.
Puppy Note: I expect the Puppies will mostly be as bored as I was by this, but ya never know. I see why some people would like the book, it’s cozy and safe. I’m one of those people who doesn’t think awards should ever go to safe fiction. I hope at least one of the Hugo-nominated books rises to the challenge of saying something interesting this year.