In MJ Scott’s The Shattered Court, first in a new series, Anglion’s royal women hold the capacity for magical power. When a royal witch’s power manifests on her twenty-first birthday, she is bound to a suitable husband. Lady Sophia Kendall, or Sophie, is a member of the royal family and lady-in-waiting to the crown princess, and as her twenty-first birthday approaches she knows it will change the course of her life. On the eve of Sophie’s birthday, however, an attack by Anglion’s enemies leaves her on the run with a member of the royal guard, Lieutenant Cameron Mackenzie, far from Court and the rites that will bind her magic, should it manifest, to the service of the Goddess and, subsequently, a husband.
One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was how the romance was integrated with the rest of the story. It plays a crucial role in Sophie’s character development, as well as forwarding the plot and both illuminating elements of the world-building and being affected itself by the politics and magic of the world. I read a lot of YA (which this most definitely isn’t), and sometimes it feels like there are romance plotlines shoe-horned into books because it’s “what you do” in YA. There are, of course, also excellent romantic storylines in YA series, but this was one of those books that really showcases romance as a natural extension of the way characters, who are influenced by their surroundings and the events around them, come together and interact as individuals.
As I said before, the romance is, to an extent, dictated by the world Sophie and Cameron live in. And it’s an intriguing world. Women hold magical power that manifests on their twenty-first birthdays, though no one knows whether or not it will until that point. It’s a mystical force, drawn from the earth itself, but bound by ritual and religion to men. For the royal witches who hold power are married off to influential noblemen, and their power bound to their husbands. Indeed, it seems that the power must be bound to a husband in order to be safe. In this world, then, women hold a great deal of power, but it is fettered power, nothing which gives them true agency. This interplay between the raw magical power and its lack of manifestation in the political sphere is beautifully done, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of this in the rest of the series.
With women’s magic and its relationship to men being so integral to the world-building in this novel, it’s unsurprising that there are plenty of women in this novel, all unique and complex individuals with their own lives and secrets. Though much of the story is told through the naïve Sophie’s eyes, we get a sense that there is more to these women than what she sees, and I look forward to getting to know them better in later books.
Whether you’re looking for a little bit of feminism with your high fantasy or you’re just interested in fantastic world-building and compelling characters, The Shattered Court should be on your TBR this summer.
Nicola is an English Lit graduate with a passion for YA fantasy and books by and about women, neither of which she got nearly enough of during her degree. Her favourite things are books, cats and tea, preferably all at once. You can follow her on her blog and on Twitter.