The Councillor by EJ Beaton

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. Publically, 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.

***

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

I stumbled upon this one while browsing NetGalley selections. I love a good cunning protagonist, political scheming, and the bonus tag of Machiavellian-inspired meant I was basically bound to love this book. Unfortunately, I found myself struggling as I read and it’s honestly hard to fully describe why.

I’ll start with the good, because there really is a lot to love in this book. The palace drama and politiking in this is fantastic. Our MC, Lysande, finds herself the newly announced Councillor after her Queen and close friend Sarelin is murdered. As Councillor, it’s her job to appoint her country’s next ruler. Yet, the Sarelin’ assassin remains at large and putting the wrong person on the throne could put the entire country in jeopardy. Lysande’s systematic, cautious (Machievellian) approach to handling these candidates is both fascinating and ruthless. There were multiple occasions as I read where I was thinking, ‘damn Lysande you ballsy’ with some of the decisions she makes. For fans of political dramas, this feature definitely hits its mark.

The character work in here, especially Lysande and Luca, are quite fun to read. Lysande gets portrayed as this very scholarly character, who’s initially very doubtful of her abilities as Councillor given her low-born upbringing. Her growth through the book and truly coming into her power, and her own mental growth to be comfortable and accept that power, is extremely well crafted. Her growing chimera scale drug addiction, which apparently has similar effects to cocaine, is another facet of her character, though the author is careful to never make that her entire character. She also has this surprisingly domme hedonistic side of her that was simply a delight to read.

Of the four ruler candidates, my favorite by far is Luca (Sorry Jale and Dante). Guy brings his pet cobra to the introductory dinner table and makes no comments about it. Who could not be a fan? Luca in a way, is an older, wiser, and more cunning rendition of your “dark, mysterious, and probably evil YA love interest”, yet his characterization is just so compelling to read. I also really loved that Luca, despite occasionally flirting with Lysande, doing her favors, is absolutely not her ally. He has his own goals and if that means going against Lysande’s will, so be it. Such is the game of politics, right?

Despite the political machinations, despite the character work, I think what really made The Councillor difficult to get through was the slow pacing. The Councillor is slow. Really slow. Lysande spends a lot of time introspecting, a lot of time being sad that Sarelin isn’t there to guide her, a lot of time telling herself she’s only going to temporarily take more dragon scale, etc. While I don’t mind a character-driven novels, despite all of Lysande’s musings, I never really found myself emotionally connecting to her. Likewise, it felt like there was a gap between her musings and the actions she decides to take, like there’s a single critical step in a logic puzzle missing when going from state A to B.

Another minor complaint I have is that Beaton spends the majority of this book trying to push Lysande and her advisor Desert together, when Luca is RIGHT THERE. Stop trying to make Desert happen. he has the personality of the wet rag. I’m sorry but they really have no chemistry together, While Lysande and Luca have phenomenal chemistry and you get the added trope of enemies-to-lovers? Enemies-as-lovers? Not sure what you’d call it but it’s some good, quality content and I have to suffer this dishrag instead. Add on Lysande and Luca’s lowkey (except not really) dom/sub dynamic (I’m here for more female dommes in SFF) and like, what even is the point of your existence Derset?

Finally, a big portion of this book is about determining Sarelin’s assassin, and which of these four rulers aided it. With every meeting, with every decision, this is a factor that weighs heavily on Lysande’s mind. Around 30% in, we learn that there’s a spy admits this party of rulers Lysande is traveling with and this intrigue carries throughout the book as Lysande scrutinizes every action. Personally, I thought the identity of that spy was extremely obvious and for me, it really detracted from the mystery when with every musing I just wanted to scream, “No it’s ___!”

Overall, I rate this book a 3/5. There was a ton of potential and the Machiavellian-inspired politiking really should have been right up my street. Unfortunately, with the slow pacing and lack of real intrigue, I found The Councillor somewhat lacking instead.


r/Fantasy 2020-2021 Bingo Squares:

  • Novel Featuring Politics
  • Feminist Novel

Publication Date: 2 March 2021
Publisher: DAW
Format: eBook, ARC
Pages: 448
Word Count: ~165,000
ISBN: 075641699X
Buy It Here: Amazon | Google Books | Barnes and Nobles | Goodreads

3 thoughts on “The Councillor by EJ Beaton

  1. I was kinda curious about this, but I’m not in the mood for slow books atm. Also I already hate Desert and I haven’t even met him.

    Liked by 2 people

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