Cover of Royal Bastards, featuring a throne on a teal background overlayed by the title in silver

About the Book

Title: Royal Bastards (The Royal Bastards #1)
Published: 2017
Series: The Royal Bastards
Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Cover Story: Text Heavy
BFF Charm: Eventually
Talky Talk: Modern Fantasy
Bonus Factors: Outcasts, Not the Chosen One
Relationship Status: Better as Friends

Cover Story: Text Heavy

This is one of those covers that relies heavily on the title of the book to grab your attention, and I think it does a really good job of that. Plus, with its metallic sheen, the title literally looks heavy, too.

I don’t love the flatness of the chair/throne juxtaposed with the 3D goblet, however. Had I been in the cover designer’s shoes (she says, as though she’s had any training whatsoever), I would have gone more 3D for both.

The Deal:

Tillandra is a bastard. Literally: She’s the daughter of a Lord and a castle servant, and was tossed aside when her father married for political gain and had official heirs. But Tilla doesn’t really mind; not being “official” gives her leeway in how she has live her life, and she prefers drinking and goofing off with her half-brother, Jax, to the rigid schedule she might otherwise be forced to follow.

But that life of leisure comes to a brutal halt the night after a feast honoring the visiting Princess Lyriana, when Tilla, Lyriana, Jax, Miles (another noble bastard), and Zell, the disgraced son of a warrior chieftain, witness a vicious crime. They’re forced to run for their lives, and in doing so are forced to reexamine who they are and what they’re living for.

BFF Charm: Eventually

BFF Charm with a sweatband on

Tilla’s kind of a slacker, and high school me was most definitely not. (Current me is a little more lax when it comes to certain things.) Tilla brushing off school to do drink and goof off definitely would have had me seeking out other people to hang with. She’s also got a hot temper, and her sass, while entertaining, has an edge. But the Tilla who emerges by the end of the book is a young woman worthy of anyone’s friendship. She’s strong, both physically and emotionally; she’s willing to do what’s right, regardless of who she might cross in the process; and she’s loyal to those who earn it, even if she’s only known them a short while. Those qualities were likely there all along, but it took a little bit of adversity to really bring them to the surface.

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Tilla hasn’t had much experience with the opposite sex, and at seventeen has only kissed one guy. But she doesn’t see that as a problem, she just think it means that she hasn’t found the right person. (Totally excellent reasoning, Tilla.) But when she starts to feel a little something toward a member of her erstwhile crew, she’s more than willing to explore said feelings and see if they might be reciprocated.

That said, the chemistry between Tilla and her paramour isn’t super fleshed out. It’s not instalove, and there are a few moments of pretty hot swoon (and I totally called it happening the first time they met), but their interactions were missing that something that gives a relationship that oomph we all look for.

Talky Talk: Modern Fantasy

Although it’s set in a feudal fantasy land, there’s something too modern about parts of Royal Bastards. I think it was the dialogue; Tilla uses curse words that you’d hear your friends and neighbors say. It can be distracting when authors make up their own curses, but hearing Tilla say “oh shit,” took me out of the book’s world.

And, speaking of, there’s something a little generic about the world Shvarts created for Royal Bastards, too. There were glimpses into an intriguing world backstory, particularly when it came to how the magic users of the world got their magic, but it wasn’t explained well enough, or in-depth enough to really separate this kingdom from the many others in YA fantasies. Nor were the characters all that unique; they were interesting and entertaining, but they don’t really stand out from the crowd.

Bonus Factor: Outcasts

The cast of Mystery Men all dressed in different quirky outfits in the subway

Tilla’s crew aren’t the most likely of friends, but when they’re forced to band together, they quickly find that the fact that they don’t seem like they’d fit well together on the outside means squat when push comes to shove.

Bonus Factor: Not the Chosen One

(Apologies if this is too much of a spoiler, but I don’t think it is?) We’re all familiar with the trope of “the chosen one,” or the many fantasy books in which the main character thinks she’s “normal” and “ordinary,” only to find out that she’s actually a long-lost princess or has latent magical powers. Tilla finds out none of these things. She’s a bastard born, and a bastard she stays. That doesn’t mean she’s not special, in the ways all humans are, but I appreciate that Shvarts showed that even regular people can be heroes in their own right.

Relationship Status: Better as Friends

I think we got on well enough, Book, but I never felt a spark. I’d totally hang out again, but just as friends. There’s no need to force something more when neither of us are really feeling it.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Disney-Hyperion, but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Royal Bastards is available now.

Mandy (she/her) is a manager at a tech company who lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, son, and dogs. She loves superheroes and pretty much any show or movie with “Star” in the name.