A fun if disappointing Fantasy novel with four female protagonists.
Title: Daughters of Ruin
Written by K.D. Castner
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: April 5 2016
Hardcover: 320 pages
Rhea, Cadis, Suki, and Iren have lived together since they were children. They are called sisters. They are not. They are called equals. They are not. They are princesses…and they are enemies.
Not long ago, a brutal war ravaged their kingdoms, and Rhea’s father was the victor. As a gesture of peace, King Declan brought the daughters of his rivals to live under his protection—and his ever-watchful eye. For ten years the girls have trained together as diplomats and warriors, raised to accept their thrones and unite their kingdoms in peace.
But there is rarely peace among sisters. Sheltered Rhea was raised to rule everyone—including her “sisters”—but she’s cracking under pressure. The charismatic Cadis is desperately trying to redeem her people from their actions during the war. Suki guards deep family secrets that isolate her, and quiet Iren’s meekness is not what it seems.
All plans for peace are shattered when the palace is attacked. As their intended futures lie in ashes, Rhea, Cadis, Suki, and Iren must decide where their loyalties lie: to their nations, or to each other.
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in a new series
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the Publisher
Format (e- or p-): electronic copy
Warning: this review contains a few spoilers.
In a faraway land not our own, four princesses from different kingdoms are raised together like sisters. But sisters they are not: three of them have been kidnapped and brought to live with King Declan and his daughter Rhea as Peace Hostages after a war that ravaged their world.
The insecure yet privileged Rhea; the charismatic, beautiful Cadis; stoic, smart Iren; and troubled Suki. Rhea is the King’s daughter and she loves her sisters dearly but fear they don’t love her back. Cadis tries to redeem her people after a devastating betrayal. Iren hides her secrets behind a façade of meekness. And Suki has lost her mind as well as her beloved sister.
The four train together and fight together – sometimes pitted against each other for entertainment – waiting for the time when the four can be finally crowned queens of their respective lands and peace can be forever attained.
But then the palace is attacked and the princesses are targeted – and everything changes.
With this promising conceit, Daughters of Ruin was one of my top anticipated books of 2016. Whereas there are interesting elements and a strong narrative choice, the end result is not as fulfilling as it could have been (ah, the “Could-haves”, is there anything more frustrating than reading a book and thinking about the Could-haves?).
By far the strongest element of Daughters of Ruin is the chosen narrative mode: with chapters alternating between each character with the writing emulating their thought processes as part of their characterisation. So for example, Iren’s point of view is choppy and to-the-point, just as her character. Suki is meandering and childish (her being the youngest), showing a mind that has been almost lost. It’s interesting stuff and what makes the book very readable even though the characters don’t stray much beyond the parameters set above.
The premise itself is also entertaining if slightly counter-intuitive and convoluted. Consider: our princesses are brought together to live as sisters for peace. But they are taught to fight and are effectively super badasses in different modes of fighting. Every year there is this big spectacle where they face each other for public entertainment. In other words: there is less diplomacy and more badassery.
Now, does this make sense in any shape or form beyond the immediacy of superficial reader amusement? Because either way, this is nonsense. If King Declan REALLY wants to keep peace and make the girls feel like there are sisters, why teach them fighting skills and pit them against each other? If there are ulterior motives and he doesn’t want to keep the peace why turn four future queens into super ultra killing machines capable to fight him? Yes, the action sequences are cool but the badassery is undermined by the fact that it all feels gratuitous.
This is one of the many problems I had with Daughters of Ruin. Although the ending has a potentially interesting twist, the getting there was far too convoluted. There is a lot of time spent on a love triangle with this book’s version of a Stable Boy, a servant who is their “friend” and is the love interest of at least two of the characters. Further, in a book with four female protagonists one most wonder why are all four equally straight, cis.
The story is further hindered by the surprising, twisted revelation that the One True Heir is none other than the aforementioned non-descript Orphaned Stable Boy and not one of the girls. It’s disappointing but in fairness, this is the first book in a series and there might be further development and more subversive plotting.
Sadly and perhaps unfairly, it’s difficult to read this novel and not think of another recent release, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, that had a similar premise (Peace Hostages, a cutthroat world, children pitted against each other) but better-executed, with less stereotypical characters and a central queer romance.
In other words, Daughters of Ruin is a mix of entertainment and disappointment.
Rating: 5 – Meh