Book Review: The Glittering Court, by Richelle Mead

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_glittering_courtThe Glittering Court is a Cinderella story in reverse. It is the story of Lady Witmore, a countess whose family fortune has depleted. Faced with an arranged marriage, to a bit of a “wet blanket”, and the prospect of a a future spent with a domineering mother-in-law, the Countess takes matters into her own hands. Assuming the identity of her ex-serving lady, she becomes Adelaide Bailey, and runs away to join the Glittering Court – a school set up to transform impoverished girls into upper-class ladies, fit to send into the “New World” as potential wives.

With her high-class upbringing, one might suspect Adelaide would excel at her studies – and indeed she could – but there is a fine line to tread if she wishes to keep her identity a secret. Also, despite her knowledge in the higher classes, her basic training is, well, something of an embarrassment. She cannot sew, but knows the correct silverware to use. So, while the other girls receive a crash-course in behaving noble, Adelaide hones her skills of deceit, and picks up a few more along the way. She makes friends too: Fierce and determined Tamsin and beautiful and intelligent Mira, a Sirminican refugee. And, of course, there is rivalry, with Clara, the resident “queen bee”, who is determined not to be out-staged.

Her deceit becomes more complicated when we discover her true identity is known to one person, the intriguing Cedric Thorn. He has secrets of his own, as Adelaide discovers, secrets that could have him killed. The two set up a scheme to make the best of her deception, and free them both from the binds of the society they are soon to leave behind. Settling in Adoria brings more complexity, however, as Adelaide quickly catches the eyes of a promising suitor, just as she is falling in love with someone else… someone who could create scandal and force her to leave behind, entirely, her former comfortable life. Is she ready to forego a life of comfort and good food, in favour of love and hard work?

The Glittering Court is a complexly woven story, with deception, secrets, social politics, romance, blackmail, scandals, adventure… there is never a dull moment to be had. Adelaide is, despite her upper-class upbringing, far from being a rich snob and very, very determined. Her friends are equally personable, unfortunately, they fade somewhat into the background as the story’s journey takes new twists and turns. Her rivalry with Clara, likewise, dissipates into the greater scheme of things. Despite this, many of the earlier threads are tied up later in the book, with enough left hanging to leave the reader anticipating the follow-up.

This isn’t Vampire Academy (although the teen girl politics are similar in the earlier part), and it bears more semblance to a historic novel than fantasy (albeit historic set in a world reminiscent, but dissimilar to our own). It should appeal to fans of Kiera Cass’s Selection novels. It is richly written, compelling and engaging. The cast of characters is rich – although not especially diverse (Mira notwithstanding), which I guess fits the setting – it’s a very “white colonial” style plot. A highly enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The Glittering Court
by Richelle Mead
Published by Razorbill
ISBN 9780670079360

Book Review: Soundless, by Richelle Mead

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_soundlesI am quite a fan of Richelle Mead – I enjoyed Vampire Academy and (most of) her Bloodlines series. She has a skill for creating strong characters and weaving an elaborate mythical world. Soundless is her latest tale, and unlike the others, it is a stand-alone story set in a dystopic world inspired by Chinese folklore, specifically concerning the pixiu, the winged dragon-lion noted for driving evil away and bringing wealth.

Fei lives in a tiny village, atop a mountain. Her people are trapped there, entirely dependent on a zipline to the village of Beiugo, below. In exchange for food and other resources, they send down precious metals taken from their mine. Her people are trapped, also, in silence. Everyone is deaf, and now some of her people are starting to lose their vision as well. Ironically, as Fei’s sister, Zhang Jing, goes blind, Fei begins to regain her hearing. And then, as productivity from the mine fails, the deliveries from below decline. It is up to Fei, and her childhood sweetheart, Li Wei, to make the dangerous and deadly climb down the mountainside, to face up to the Line-keeper and deliver a plea for help. Unfortunately, what they find is not what they expect, and help is not going to be so easy to come by…

Written like a fable, this tale is short (around 300 pages) and the plot relatively simple, with little to surprise me. Mead has taken on the challenge of describing sound from the perspective of a character not previously exposed to the concept, and done a reasonable job. The chapters are short, often ending with a cliff-hanger (sometimes literally, as they are scaling down the mountainside) to entice me to read just one more. Unfortunately, the characterisation fell a little flat for me – although Fei was admirable in her courage and determination, she did not  have much depth. Her relationship with Li Wei, for all that it was forbidden (for she was an artist, and he a humble miner), was sweet but lacking in the passion and conflict that generally drives along the plot. The Chinese flavour is somewhat subtle, mostly obvious in the names and the presence of the pixiu.

Overall, Soundless is the sort of story that is suited to someone – probably teenagers or tweens – seeking a quick read, or the more reluctant reader. Whilst the plot lacks sophistication, it is intriguing and appealing, keeping the reader engaged. Like many dystopia-type novels, it can suffer from over-analysis by the more critical reader (such as myself). I feel I would have enjoyed it more were it longer, delving deeper into the mythology and culture from which it drew its inspiration.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Soundless
by Richelle Mead
Published by Michael Joseph
ISBN 9780143573524