Book Review: THE COUNCILLOR by E. J. Beaton

Title in black on yellow with red writing next to black ink drawing of a winged creature
Genre: Political Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: yes - first book
CW: drug abuse

Synopsis:

Book cover for THE COUNCILLOR: title in black on yellow below a black winged creature and a red quill

When the death of Iron Queen Sarelin Brey fractures the realm of Elira, Lysande Prior, the palace scholar and the queen’s closest friend, is appointed Councillor. Publicly, Lysande must choose the next monarch from amongst the city-rulers vying for the throne. Privately, she seeks to discover which ruler murdered the queen, suspecting the use of magic.

Resourceful, analytical, and quiet, Lysande appears to embody the motto she was raised with: everything in its place. Yet while she hides her drug addiction from her new associates, she cannot hide her growing interest in power. She becomes locked in a game of strategy with the city-rulers – especially the erudite prince Luca Fontaine, who seems to shift between ally and rival.

Further from home, an old enemy is stirring: the magic-wielding White Queen is on the move again, and her alliance with a traitor among the royal milieu poses a danger not just to the peace of the realm, but to the survival of everything that Lysande cares about.

In a world where the low-born keep their heads down, Lysande must learn to fight an enemy who wears many guises… even as she wages her own battle between ambition and restraint.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Review:

THE COUNCILLOR is a book I think suffered for being read around my final lab of the academic year. Yes, I gave it four stars, but if I wasn’t frustrated and exhausted, and actually up for reading at night and thus taking a week to read a book that would normally take two days, I think it might have been 5 stars. It’s the sort of thing that I’m looking forwards to re-reading at some point.

It is a political fantasy with a scholar in the central role, suddenly thrust into prominence and trying to hold a country together, while not knowing who she can trust. It’s intricate and layered and all about out-thinking your opponents. Magic is seen as wrong by the society, but never a black-and-white issue by Lysande. It’s absolutely my sort of thing, hence I think it could have been 5 stars if read when I had more energy. But I didn’t have the drive to pick it up, because I just wanted to crash out to something that didn’t require me to be a participant.

The world is fabulous, though. Five cities comprising a country, each of which can become the monarch’s city if the monarch is chosen from there. We see three cities, all of which feel so different (fingers crossed we see the other two in the next book!) They have different economies and tensions with one another, plus the world itself is larger with other countries. I would have loved a map, though, because I struggle to envision maps from description, and I find knowing where things are really helps me with political fantasy.

I did guess the reveal over a 100 pages early, but I was talking to friends about it, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I have a very analytic brain – give me a data sample (like 200+ books a year) and I will pull out the patterns with ease. Even though I’d correctly guessed what was going to happen, and thus the initial “gut punch shock” couldn’t land, I really liked how Lysande dealt with the fall out, to see the emotional processing get its full time, rather than being stuck at the end.

Lysande is struggling with drug abuse throughout, though she’s in denial that it’s an issue. It definitely didn’t go the way I was expecting – these sorts of plot lines usually follow one of two paths (it comes out and is a problem, or it’s a habit rejected through self-reflection and the help of close friends without becoming public knowledge), but THE COUNCILLOR doesn’t do either. While there are elements of each of these approaches in the story, it ultimately doesn’t go either way. I liked that I couldn’t predict this element. It’ll be interesting to see if its path goes either of the “normal” ways over the course of the sequel.

It is the first in a series. I’m not sure how many books there are, but there is at least one sequel coming out (I’m reading the online chatter/author hints as simply a duology, but it’s a little unclear.)

2 thoughts on “Book Review: THE COUNCILLOR by E. J. Beaton

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