Spoiler and Trigger Warnings: Self-Cutting/harm, child abuse, alcoholism, incest (kind of- but we'll get to that in a minute)
Thank you Little Brown Books for Young Readers for an ARC of Rule for an honest review. Rule is out on September 11th
As a teacher, we were always taught to start with the best things about our students. In fact, out of all the comments we could bubble in, when I was teaching in NYC, there was one in particular: Your child has an inquisitive mind. That was the one that we used when we couldn’t start off the comments in any other positive fashion and by second grade, let parents know the year wasn’t going particularly well. Let’s just say if I was writing a report card for Rule, I would say it had an inquisitive mind.
It is a shame really because the character building starts off particularly strong. You have three very different sisters from extremely different backgrounds, classes and worlds (although at times their personalities seem to mush together).
Akeylah adopted father is an abusive, alcoholic father and is considered the smartest of the three sisters. Her people are starving, and she wants the crown to bring an end to their starvation. Unfortuantely, it is her secret that we find out to be the most devastating among them.
Next, you have Ren (Star Wars, anyone?), a native of Kolonian who has the closest “connection” to life in a palace…. as a maid. Yeah, not quite the royal lifestyle she is now forced to become accustomed to as a princess. So while she knows her way around the place and is basically the information gatherer of the group, she wants out of her lower class status and into the high-life of palace life.
Then there is Zofi. Her tribe is not well-regarded by anyone in the empire and they know it. They don’t think twice. They are a tribe of nomads and love their travelling, nomad lifestyle. She is a strong female architype that can fight, use a weapon and in a no-nonsense realization concludes that dawning the crowns means ending the oppression of her people.
Unfortunately, as dynamic and amazing as these characters are built up – with different backgrounds, damage, regional colloquialisms and rationales for their wanting to Rule, that is where it just ends. It doesn’t build upon in actions, often allowing their personalities to run into each other like watercolors mixing on a page with too much water.
Before moving on to the premise and the that “cliffhanger.” I have to address the one daughter (I won’t mention who because it doesn’t even matter and why spoil everything) who falls for their step-mother, which as a Game of Thrones fan, again maybe I could even stomach, even in a YA novel… sometimes I’m sure the wrong affections could fall to the wrong place in stressful times. Should the step-mother kindly and delicately redirect her step-daughter in the right direction (another appropriate single female, perhaps) but nooooooooo…. she encourages it. Yes, let me repeat that… SHE ENCOURAGES IT.
Again, technically I could get the fact that they aren’t actually related although as the woman actually married to this lying cheating man, I’d be pretty angry that these three step-children get to be chosen queen when she’s standing there, but again maybe she’s doing it on purpose and has her own agenda. Who knows at this point the way this book is so wrongly done with so much potential. Anyhow, As the meme above indicates, I can take a lot. I watch some dicey shows but seriously? And in a teen YA book? Aw, hell now. You can’t go there, do this with that. I already texted my brother halfway through the book (and I’m not about censoring what my brilliant niece who is a senior in high school reads and was like—NOPE).
Ok- now the premise:
Basically, a Game of Thrones premise (and a true to history premise even if some might not consider it appropriate to YA audiences- it is what Kings did. You can’t really argue that part) A promiscuous King runs around sowing his royal oaths and ends up with three daughters. He finds out he’s dying and calls them to his court where he announces that he will have to choose one of them to rule.
And now … the Revealish and “cliffhanger”
Being no one has grown up in the Kings Court, none have a particular infinity to be Queen but power will corrupt as power does (or at least lodge itself into your deep, dark places), soon the girls find that why yes, yes of course I want to be queen. Except there is a hitch… each has a secret… there secrets to rule that can destroy them all and their father. Soon its all about that lies, that lies, that lies not just trouble…. (oh shush… I couldn’t help it). And it isn’t even definite… they are often perceived on suspicion that one sister is blackmailing the other on the secret they hold to get the crown for themselves which leads to… wait for it…
Yes, of course the big beautiful extravaganza ballroom with intrigue, espionage, ballroom gowns galore, a decision at hand and the big revealish that’s more a cliffhanger… Ok so you know how most YA books are series and cliffhangers work? Well this one doesn’t… like for Walking Dead fans… you know how this cliffhanger just didn’t work for anyone???
Yea, well neither did this one. AT. ALL. The core, key relationship with the father was never explored in-depth enough. He takes them to meet the court and it is rushed through. Their aunt, his twin sister never seems to help them acclimate or dote on them the way one might expect in this kind of situation. I bring this up around the cliffhanger because maybe that’s part of the issue. Maybe it is coming in the second book or maybe she’s apart of the blackmailing because she wants the throne- but again that cliffhanger didn’t play well and had it played better, maybe we’d know more, and wouldn’t be left so blah about these core relationships, maybe they couldn’t bring them closer because she has a plot of her own. Maybe she’s killing the father.
OK I’m completely speculating here but you really have no choice the way the book ends, leaving so many relationships that would have brought depth, connection, and breath of complexity to core relationships unexplored and shallow.
For instance, with Mirage I kind of want t up my star review of because now I know there’s a second book (I didn’t at the time), and I’m really excited to know that there is one based on how it set up worlds, characters and the cliffhanger/conclusion. Rule did not provide that excitement. I have no excitement for a second book in this series.
What I do have hope for? Is that Three Dark Crowns- which I haven’t even started… and will basically get to read and review the whole series at once? Will be entirely better than this book/series. Rule brought nothing new to a YA fantasy genre saturated with amazing books. Trying to bring something new, it brought a whole lot of head scratching… oh no honey… don’t go there. I think it had some really good premise that hopefully Ellen Goodlett can take to her next project and improve on and make better in her next novel.