The Shattered Court ended up being a difficult book for me. What appeared to be a YA/NA type of fantasy romance (just look at that cover!) instead read much more like the graphic sex fantasy books of the late 1970s/early 1980s (Sharon Green’s Jalav series comes to mind). But the slow pacing, passive ingenue heroine, bodice ripper romance aspects, and lack of development in both characters and plot made this more than a bit daunting to slog through. I ended the book feeling like nothing really happened and that this was more of a prologue than the first in a new series. In all honesty, I was bored.
Story: Lady Sophie Kendall is about to come into her witch powers when the capitol is attacked and the king killed. She is saved by dashing Lieutenant Cameron Mackenzie, who whisks her away to safety. But then her powers manifest – powers which cause her and the captain to engage in urgent sex. Now, unable to be bound to the Goddess since she is no longer a virin, the princess/Queen-to-be requires Sophie to marry Cameron. She’s quite happy to – but soon discovers that with the attack on the capitol (and with her strong witch powers that extend beyond what’s permitted to royal witches since she couldn’t be bound) she’s a target for political conspiracy and murder. Can Cameron save his new bride? And does he love her for her or is it just her witch powers that attract him?
From what I can ascertain, the world is loosely based upon Renaissance England and France. E.g., the country is named Anglion, is an island, has northerners with Scottish sounding names, and has princesses, kings, and nobility like Earls and Marquis, just spelled phonetically. It felt lazy to use British history nearly wholesale, just throwing in the trappings of magic on top.
We’re promised a fantasy but honestly, there was little magic in the story. There’s a lot of tell about battle mages and royal witches and how powerful they are – but other than stepping through a portal and one magical punch, we don’t really see any of it. Instead, the magic is an excuse for sex, with the power making each gender seem much sexier and interesting, as well as making them horny.
The premise of the story is that the magic is waning, fewer witches are born and each is subsequently weaker, and for some reason, those who guard/watch over the witches don’t have a clue about the witch powers (really odd). There is a religion that is hinted to be there to control the witches and force them into subservience to the men; the female head of the order is called a “domina”, which gives the impression we’ve got a bad guy here. But I found it odd that supposedly Sophie and Cameron have a relationship that will make each stronger (a synergy), yet no one knows anything about that or suspects it. Sophie is simply considered a threat to the church because she couldn’t be bound by the Goddess to constrict her magic to earth chores only. But she’s useful, so she’s allowed to live. But it does beg the question why royal witches who *have* to be virgins to be bound are allowed to go into the city to buy baubles, escorted only with a hunky and horny lieutenant (and on the day before their powers manifest). You’d think the country would long ago have created a law sentencing sex with pre-witch women as beheading/
Since this is a Renaissance/medieval type of fantasy, the women at court are objects and subservient to the men. Sophie is rather innocent but balks at the lack of freedom and idea of forced marriage. Which is fine but by the next few pages, she’s quite happy with an arranged marriage and looking forward to using her husband’s money on trivialities. She’s quite passive, ends up most of the book being saved by Cameron, so her earlier chafing seems more like a petulant child rather than the will of a strong character. I had a hard time liking Sophie or wanting to follow her. She just wasn’t interesting and spends most of the time wondering what’s going on around her (or pondering necklaces, fancy dresses, etc.).
Lead Cameron, who begins the book having a sexual encounter with the princess who is apparently irresistible because her witch powers are strong, then decides that he could do worse than marrying Sophie. He pretty much becomes a rather bland and malleable Prince Charming, running around saving his future wife from unwanted advances at balls and other nebulous threats. His only purpose in the book seems to be as a boy toy for the witches and as such, doesn’t feel like a real person at all. As an example, when Sophie gets jealous and starts berating him for having slept with the princess, he thinks it is cute and nicknames her ‘wildcat’ (what a misnomer – ‘wet kitten’ would probably be better). I just didn’t buy it that a supposedly manly guy in a patriarchal society would think his wife upbraiding him as cute rather than just resorting to physical violence to shut her up.
We have the typical bodice ripper elements: forced/arranged marriage, graphic sex with the virgin that is perfect, a cast of side character females that all fall into the nun or whore category, the ‘big misunderstanding’ scene that causes the heroine to doubt her lover, the drunken lout who makes advances on the heroine so the hero can save her, unhinged rantings of jealousy and suspicion by the heroine that the hero thinks is cute and doesn’t upset him, unique snowflake ability (or ancestry), and more. I kept tripping over the cliches and felt there was too much bodice ripper and not enough fantasy.
Since the story is pretty much told from Sophie’s point, and she’s a sheltered (I assume) simple creature, there wasn’t a lot of interest for me in the story. There’s sex, an explosion, more sex, a lot of traveling, balls, pretty dresses, fancy necklaces galore, overheard secrets, and a lot of shallow machinations. There were also oddly anachronistic terms; e.g., for a story that felt very Elizabeth Rex renaissance, the hero suggests Sophie go get his cravats to tie up an intruder.
The story hinted at a lot of world building but never delivered. I kept waiting for the plot to kick in but the focus was on Sophie and Cameron’s relationship but with a story arc pretty much about things in court destabilizing. The problem is that the destabilizing pretty much took place ‘off camera’ since the couple went on the run. Similarly, Sophie’s witch powers are hinted at being complex and there is the suggestion of a conspiracy to control the witches over the centuries – but there are no reveals at all. Just overheard conversations that leave Sophie even more confused than usual. The whole story just lacked a ‘catch’ for me – a reason to continue other than that witch powers make men horny for the special women.
What I had hoped for in this type of story is a girl using her wits as the only power she has in a male-dominated society and navigating court politics (e.g., a Queen Elizabeth 1). What I got was a romance between a bland and innocent girl and a fairly one-dimensional hero. And pages of magic-induced graphic sex. Reviewed from an advance reader copy.