Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Andari Chronicles Review: Traitor's Masque

After finishing Pirouette, the third book in Kenley Davidson's Andari Chronicles series, I immediately rushed to pick up the first book, Traitor's Masque. This is a retelling of "Cinderella" set in the kingdom of Andar, and since magic isn't introduced to the series until Book 3, this story has atmosphere more similar to a gentle historical romance than to a fantasy novel. But there's still a hefty dose of political intrigue to ensure us that it's set in the same world and to keep it from being a run-of-the-mill "Cinderella" retelling.

Our main character is Trystan, the spoiled daughter of a deceased lord, who escapes from her stepfamily by going out on horseback rides. One day, she starts a friendship with a kind young man, but they both keep their personal lives secret, and doubt that the relationship can lead to any romantic hopes.

Then the crown prince, Ramsey, announces that he's holding a masquerade ball that will help him to choose his bride. This is an important political move, because the crown prince is actually the second son, chosen for the throne because the king doesn't trust the dissipated ways of his eldest son, Rowan. There's a significant faction of people who would prefer that the charming, handsome, morally bankrupt Rowan take the throne, and Ramsey needs to secure his position by producing an heir, the sooner the better.

Trystan is soon contacted by a wealthy female neighbor who's among those that want Prince Rowan on the throne. She offers Trystan enough wealth and land to secure a comfortable life independent of her stepfamily, on the condition that she attends the ball under an assumed identity and retrieves a message. Trystan suspects that she's not being told everything, but she has little concern for politics and desperately wants to escape her stepfamily, so she convinces herself that her bout of espionage can't do much harm.

Of course, it turns out that Prince Ramsey is the kind stranger that Trystan met on her horseback rides. And now Trystan's entangled in a plot to remove him from power. Trystan and Ramsey both navigate politics, betrayal, danger, and their own hearts as they try to salvage a happy ending from this mess.  

Traitor's Masque is full of exciting political intrigue, which forms the most interesting and unique portion of this "Cinderella" story. The characters of Traitor's Masque are less vivid than those of Pirouette, but are still well-drawn, and Ramsey in particular develops from a slightly generic dutiful prince into a sympathetic and layered leader. One plot point felt forced--a character made such a poorly thought-out decision that I knew its only purpose was to launch us into the climax--but the plot is otherwise solid. The prose is a bit wordy and often repetitive--flaws present to a lesser extent in Pirouette--but in this story in particular, I feel that a stern editor could have reduced the word count by at least a third without losing anything important.  

Traitor's Masque is a very well-done version of "Cinderella", but compared to Pirouette, Traitor's Masque feels less polished and creative. The world is less detailed--unavoidable when comparing the first book in a series to the third--and it's a much more traditional retelling. It definitely doesn't help that "Cinderella" is the most retold fairy tale of all time. Several points--such as Cinderella meeting the prince before the ball, receiving help from a wealthy female, and having support from her family's servants--have already been explored in other retellings, making it feel less original than Pirouette does. Nevertheless, it's a solid and exciting story, and in the top tier of "Cinderella" retellings that I've read.

I definitely recommend reading the book, but if I'd read it first, I doubt I would have rushed to the rest of the series the way that I did after reading Pirouette. Reading Book 3 first spoiled several surprises of the first book's plot, but I think that I found Traitor's Masque more satisfying as a prequel than I would have found it as the introduction to a series.

Coming up next: My review of Goldheart, the second book in The Andari Chronicles.

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