City of Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

The Royal Bastards are back in fine form, in City of Bastards by Andrew Shvarts.

Tilla, bastard of House Kent, has it made. Safe from her murderous father in the dazzling capital of Lightspire, she lives a life of luxury under the protection of the Volaris King, alongside her boyfriend Zell and best friend, Princess Lyriana.

So why isn’t she happy? Maybe it’s the whispers and stares that follow her wherever she goes, as the daughter of the traitor waging war against Lightspire. Or maybe it’s the memories of her beloved brother, Jax, who lies cold in his grave even as she tries to settle into a life in the city’s prestigious University.

Then, Tilla stumbles upon the body of a classmate, a friend. The authorities are quick to rule it a suicide and sweep it under the rug, but when Tilla herself is attacked by a mysterious man with terrifying powers, she’s convinced of a conspiracy. Her friends beg her to stay silent; what she’s suggesting is impossible… and treasonous.

But Tilla can’t, won’t, let it go. And the deeper she digs, the more questions she uncovers. How is the West beating the supposedly invincible Lightspire Mages in battle? Is it connected to the shadowy cult wreaking havoc in Lightspire? Nothing is as it seems in the glorious capital, and Tilla’s presence might just be the spark that sets the Kingdom aflame.

I feel like this series really found its footing in this book. While I enjoyed Royal Bastards, it felt at times very young (almost middle grade-ish, despite the sex and violence) — and sometimes it felt jarring bouncing between the book’s lighter moments and more intense scenes.

I didn’t have any of those problems with City of Bastards. In this book, the world of Volaris feels much more fully realized, as do the characters. Shvarts established in book one a fun melding of an epic fantasy world, with an almost contemporary vibe in terms of the character’s speech and behavior. This unexpected juxtaposition felt much more comfortable going into City of Bastards; it just seemed to flow more naturally, and falling into the rhythm of the narrative was easy.

I also loved the turns the plot took in this book. The fallout from Royal Bastards really comes into play, but we also see new key figures step into the spotlight — and Shvarts definitely throws some wicked twists at you.

City of Bastards is everything I hoped for in a sequel to Royal Bastards, and then some. If you left the first book feeling uncertain about this series, I beg you to reconsider and give it another shot; City of Bastards will not disappoint you. Look for it in stores tomorrow.

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