The Trouble with Kings
has a problem. Several, really. It has trouble with characters, pacing and conflict& resolution. If it were any other book, it would get two stars and I would move on. However, it is written by the author of Crown Duel, a long-time favorite and it does have moments of good writing, which flicker and dissolve. Smith has good characters here. An entire host of them. Markham, the mysterious guardsman-once-nobleman working for the evil King Jason. Maxl, the devoted elder brother - turned - king. Jewel, the flirty, flighty, spirited sister of Evil King Jason. Evil King Jason himself, who gets the short end of the stick with few scenes and even less time to be seen as a character than the rest of the cast practically put together. And then there is Flian, the princess of Lygeria, who is our narrator and guide throughout her story. When we meet her, she has amnesia from falling off a horse and hitting her head. Then the obviously bad cousin Garian shows up and takes her to his fortress, all the while very keen to have her believe that they are bestest buddies and that she is a total idiot that has engaged herself to the dour and Evil King Jason who although she has no attraction to, much less affection, she is still going to go ahead and marry. I suppose
that amnesia and the drugs that Garian was dosing her with might have contributed to this laissez-faire attitude towards her life that Flian exhibited, just letting Garian and Jason run the show.
Then Flian is taken by Jaim, Jason's younger renegade brother, who tries to sell Flian his version of events, but Flian regains her memory and is having nothing to do with the lot of them. She and Jewel return to her home, where we learn that Flian is not much for court life. She dislikes it, and with good reason, but she also allows the likes of Zelda and co. to reign. Jewel's brash independence is a welcome relief from Flian's passivity, but then again, not everyone is spirited and fierce and witty and brilliant. Flian is
ordinary, but that is what makes her interesting. She is much more like what the rest of us would be like in such a situation, I imagine. And she would make a much better friend than many of the other flashier characters. And thus, as it progresses, as a "character growth" novel it works well, with Flian learning several important lessons, however slow and haphazard the plot.
But as a fantasy? Fail. It has but the barest of elements, none of which have any direct relevance to the plot since Flian never uses her Dena Yeresbeth to any practical effect. Flian's DY allows her to see faces in water and fire and she can mentally speak to those she sees, like Jason, but nothing come of it really, though I think it would have been fascinating.
As a romance, even a story with romantic elements? Epic failure. Jason is so rarely there and is so woefully underdeveloped as a character that their interaction leaves something desperately to be desired. Even when they are in the same space, they are so busy not speaking
that we do not get very far into their getting to know one another. And by novel's end, when they end up together, I was slightly befuzzled, wondering why exactly that happened so soon. They were obviously meant for each other, but I felt that they could have used some more time ironing out the details.
Conflict and Resolution - This whole book starts with Garian concocting a plan to use Flian and when she does not cooperate he used verbal abuse and some physical torments to try and coerce her. Flian finally has the guts to run away, only to take a tumble from her getaway-equine and ends up with amnesia. Garian gets her back again, loses her again. Tries again to get her, but fails. Then we see that Garian is trying to start a land war, so Flian has a go at assassination, fails. Garian gets her again and is going to kill her, but does not. Possibly because he is a little bit obsessed with Flian by now, but also likely because Jason showed up. And then Garian shows up to Flian's engagement party and threatens to ruin Jason using her, warning her that she would probably not survive the attempt. And ... ... ... nothing comes of it! Jason just says he'll deal with Garian and Flian does not question it.
Garian has been our chief baddend throughout - always working behind the scenes, a vague presence driving along the plot. Planning evil deeds and motivating people. And now he makes a perfectly valid threat and doesn't get to carry it out?! Uh, uh. Nope. Nada. That is how we resolve this conflict? By nothing? So. Wrong.