Traitors of the Black Crown, by Cate Pearce, is the story of a young woman in disguise, living as a man in order to protect herself from the wrath of the queen, who ordered the slaughter of her entire family. However, her secret is threatened when she is banished from the kingdom and finds herself falling for the duchess she is made to serve.
I wanted to love Traitors of the Black Crown so, so badly. It has such a great premise. A young woman hiding in plain sight as a knight, banished from the kingdom and sent to serve an outlying region, where she ends up falling in love with the duchess. There is so much potential in there, from Raena’s (aka Rowan) desire for vengeance, a royal secret that was worth wiping out an entire family to keep, and something mysterious happening behind the scenes. Unfortunately, for a book with so much promise, it was unbelievably boring.
Told in alternating points of view, Pearce tries to give an all-encompassing look at what’s happening in the kingdom. But while I award points for focusing on the women in the story, this actually limits the narrative substantially. Raena and Avenna (the duchess) are both given POV chapters but are together for much of the book, so I would rather have been in the head of someone elsewhere in the kingdom.
Also, despite the alternating perspectives, I was still confused. The world-building is not that great. I didn’t have a sense of geography or even really of culture, except for the fact that the kingdom is regressively patriarchal, and the duchy Avenna rules is more liberal and democratic. I do like the scene where Avenna gets Raena to realize that her opinions are largely shaped by the biased education she received, but that really doesn’t go anywhere.
I’m a big believer in giving something up if you’re not enjoying it, but when I pick up a book to review, I feel I need to finish it so that I can evaluate it fully. It was difficult for me to finish this book because I was just so uninterested by the end. The enticing revenge plot that is teased for the first few chapters is almost entirely abandoned later, and the political intrigue is more “political” than “intriguing”. Lots of pages devoted to council meetings, not so much time for character development.
I was disappointed by the romance in Traitors of the Black Crown. Despite the sheer number of pages on which Raena and Avenna appear together, I didn’t think their relationship was all that well-developed. Raena has no sense of self-preservation (in that she would literally be killed if it got out who she was), but I can overlook that in a more compelling narrative with an interesting romance, which I do not consider this book to be. Raena and Avenna as characters are flat and dull, and I just didn’t care for the two of them together at all. Their interactions did not seem to warrant the all-consuming love they claim they felt for each other.
One thing I feel I have to mention is how unnerved I am that Raena lied to Avenna for so long. Yes, if she reveals her identity, it could mean her death, so I understand her wanting to keep it a secret at first. But once their relationship progresses and Raena is still lying about being a woman, it starts to get uncomfortable. Avenna is bisexual and not at all concerned with gender, and I did like how she just rolled with the revelation, but I find it difficult to believe that she wasn’t even at all angry about having been lied to for months.
Also, Raena is kind of casually misogynistic for a woman living as a man. It’s disconcerting.
The other characters are not much better. Many of them are virtually interchangeable and completely forgettable. There are a few deaths that I believe are supposed to be emotional, but I couldn’t tell you why. Queen Zarana is a fairly complex antagonist with a medical condition that comes and goes as the plot necessitates, and her son Zander is a cartoonishly evil villain who is given no real motivation.
The pacing is wildly inconsistent. Months can pass in a few paragraphs and yet pages are devoted to something that could be summarized in a paragraph. The first few chapters, the description, and the title gave me the impression that this would be an action-packed story, and it isn’t. The first half of the story is a lot of talking, a lot of travelling, and a lot of badly incorporated info dumps. By the time the action started, I just didn’t care anymore. Honestly, this felt like an overly-bloated setup for the second book rather than the first book in a series.
Traitors of the Black Crown is published by Hansen House and will be available September 22, 2021, wherever books are sold.
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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