This is the story of Princess Speeciaal Snoowflaake in the country of Eveerything Is Hoorrible Aand We Like Voowels A Lot. Which isn't really an improvement over Every'thing is Horryble And We L'yke Apostrophes and Ys a lot since the naming conventions are not the problem I have with so many fantasy novels.
So Ourthuri is a Horrible Place. It is so horrible that the Queens get killed if their first child isn't a boy.
Would you like me to go into why this is an extremely stupid thing to do and an incredibly cheap plot device to show that this place is horrible?
No? I don't care. I'm going to do it anyway.
First: noblewomen worthy of a king don't grow on trees. Noblewomen, in general, don't grow on trees but the fact that usually not every noble family is considered high-ranking enough to provide a future Queen/the mother of the future ruler (just as Franz Ferdinand. Not the band. The Arch Duke. Even if he hadn't met a very unfortunate end, his children wouldn't have succeeded him on the throne because their mother wasn't noble enough...she wasn't even noble enough to get a space in the family-crypt which is why Franz Ferdinand and her rest somewhere else...and that was a short excursion to the house Habsburg). Killing them off, just because they didn't manage to produce an heir immediately is cliche-villain-evil and stupid.
Second: even if we assume that every noble is equal and everybody can marry the king: shouldn't a lot of noble families go 'You know what? We have this nice marriage proposal from a different noble family which is a lot less risky. We really prefer them.'
I mean there is no mention of any superstition connected to what influences the gender of children. (Along the lines of 'if she is pure enough and never has improper thoughts the child will be a boy'). They should know that if they marry their daughter to the king there is a 50% chance of her dying. So the have the choice between 'marry her to a random noble, forge some connections, perhaps gain a bit wider influence' or 'marry her to the king, possibility of gaining a lot of influence but just as likely to go back to square 0 (or even further since presumably having a daughter who 'failed' would cause a loss of prestige)'.
Yeah. There's always going to be people who try but the king in this story needed 13 wives to get a son.
Henry VIII is laughing about him.
And how big is that bloody country that they have 13 noble families with daughters that are the right age to marry/not yet promised to somebody else/noble enough for a king/willing to marry their daughter to him (especially after he went through...the first 6 wives or so).
Having voiced my minor misgivings about some details of the world-building let me come to the plot.
Now this is a 50-page prequel-novella which means it doesn't have terribly much plot (I also need to point out that I seem to have a problem with prequel novellas in general. They might be set chronologically before the main books but they tend to be written more for the people who have already read the main books...so bear that in mind).
The story revolves around Princess Leena, one of the middle of the king's 12 daughters. She can breathe underwater, is unhappily in love with a palace guard (to clarify: not unhappily because he doesn't love her back, unhappily because the love to a mere palace guard is forbidden) named Mikzahooq (bless you), and is special because she is the only one who can see how horrible everything is.
Out of all these things I would have been really fascinated by the 'magically being able to breathe underwater'-bit but that's the one we learn least about. In fact, we only learn that she can do that and she wonders if she got it from her mother but doesn't even go into details about whether magic is common in this world or not.
What we do learn over and over again is that Leena's and bless-you's love is pure and sad and that Leena is special because everybody else is stupid.
[After a description of how she and her half-sisters are all sitting on thrones, dressed in fine clothes]
Like statuesque decorations in flowing dresses and jingling jewelery, their faces were hidden behind veils. A backdrop. Pieces of art to be admired. Leena Sighed. Of the twelve princesses, she seemed the only one uncomfortable with the whole display.
Of course. Leena quickly invents feminism. Nobody else had misgivings about that before. It can't possibly have to do the fact that nobody else has voiced those misgivings to her because the king is a tyrannical psychopath and trusting the wrong person could be fatal. Move on. Oh by the way: the veils are not made of fabric but of tiny golden chains. Oh symbolism. So subtle. Much wow.
A cage invisible to everybody it seemed except her. But it was there.
Or don't move on and keep going on about this.
A princess. But it was not how she saw herself. This girl was weak, demure, meant for nothing other than a life of birthing sons. Leena wanted so much more for herself.
Yes and you are the first one to think like that, my dear. When Leena is not moping about not being like the other princesses she has weird ideas about property:
Her clothes belonged to the maids that dressed her. It was their job to rifle through her drawers. And the topside of the bed belonged to the servants who snuck in every morning to carefully pull her sheets back into place and fluff the pillows. Even in her room, nothing truly belonged just to her.
What she actually bemoans here is that she doesn't have any private place to hide things. Which is a valid concern but so different from 'Strictly speaking, my pretty dresses, belong to my maids', that I do not know where to start with all the wrongness.
So...yeah. Plot. Leena and bless-you-guard want to escape because true love. Will they succeed? You have to read this novella to find out!
I have the whole series as ARC-bundle so this is going to be fun. But then the author's prose is rather nice and perhaps this just suffers from crap-prequel-syndrome.
ARC provided by NetGalley.