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I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
by Tabatha Shipley
Lulu Publishing, 2018
⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ⋆
The verdict: A fantasy twist on “coming of age” with a YA protagonist actually worth following.
It’s difficult to categorize Breaking Eselda. It’s an epic fantasy without extended sequences of mountain crossings or clan-clashing warfare; it’s a young adult romance without secret hookups or an overblown love triangle. In fact, it’s Shipley’s play with genre and expectations that makes the Kingdom of Fraun so interesting. Princess Eselda’s likable enough—curious and resilient, yet flawed. It’s always great to see a complex female lead who can be enchanted by romance but not so swooned that she forgets to how to think. Eselda considers others and the implications of her actions without becoming so selfless that the story feels cheaply moralistic.
The Kingdom of Fraun has long been divided into five domains, and young Princess Eselda is poised to take the throne in her homeland. Yet her coming ascension arrives in a time of political turmoil. Fraun is both threatened internally with few heirs to the realms and externally as new threats press against the borders. Most distressingly, those with royal blood are subject to “age markers,” certain years of their lives in which they’re overcome with lust or power. As tensions rise in the royal council, Eselda uncovers long-held family secrets and scandals, and she develops a growing urgency and fear as she nears the next age marker. Questions of lineage and royal duty loom as a high-profile crime shakes the kingdom, and Eselda’s every action comes against the dripping sands of time.
“Why was Fraun set to be run by five realms?” Tutor leads.
“Five is the same as the fingers on your hand.” I hold up my own hand for emphasis. “When they all work together they keep your hand balanced. With five realms there is always someone to hold the kingdom together.”
Typically with fantasy worlds, I prefer to learn as I go, so I found the first several chapters a bit slow-moving—too much information and not enough motion. The story has quite a few character names to remember before I have reason to care about them. Shipley switches perspectives a few times from one chapter to the next, but I usually wanted to stay with Eselda, finding her plot the most interesting. That said, the action comes later, and the world of Fraun has enough thought and structure to facilitate the drama. The markers explore the literal implications of coming-of-age, but it was nice to see examples of characters maintaining complexity even after they’d reached the “malicious age.” I also enjoyed the added layers to the narrative, like the roaches, a subjugated species in service of the royal family. Shipley successfully contains the plot while still opening plenty of doors for more in the series. Through all the drama and politicking, Eselda finds the key to the kingdom may be following her heart. All things considered, Breaking Eselda is an intriguing first entry in a promising series. Recommended for young adults or adults young at heart, especially those who like romance without all the mushy-gushy.
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