I had only just learned about Richelle Mead’s newest series when a shiny, gorgeous ARC showed up at work. Ever delighted by her books and needing a new read, I turned to it immediately. Mead is always a good time for me, her ability to build a world and craft an interesting mythos entices me like few others authors. Mead usually lands in my must-read lists from year to year but this time she has done something entirely new – she has landed herself in my top reads for the year…perhaps squarely in the top three.
Where to begin.
The Glittering Court is not your typical fantasy novel, rather it’s a uchronic adventure fantasy in a world based on our own. Our main heroine, the Countess Witmore of Rothford, comes from a line of noble stock. She is a direct descendant of Rupert, a man who once settled the land of Osfrid. Though she is still a peeress of the realm the Countess Witmore’s future is uncertain as her family’s money is running out. To secure her and her grandmother’s future she must marry and marry well, though she wants none of her potential suitors.
Then one day she happens upon an argument with a maidservant, Ada Bailey, and a man who paid a call on her home. His name is Cedric Thorn and he has a proposition for Ada, an opportunity to travel to the new world Adoria. Adoria has newly established colonies and expands everyday thanks to land succession from the native Icori people and trade agreements with the colonialists who inhabit the settlements. The men greatly outnumber the women and many of them are in dire needs of wives. Enter the Glittering Court, a business venture begun by Jasper and Charles Thorn, Cedric’s father and uncle respectively. The Thorns procure young eligible women from all walks of life, send them to a finishing school for a year’s time, and then take them to Adoria with the hope of settling them in marriages with the colonists…for a small fee, of course. Cedric convinces Ada to enlist though she does not wish to go, admitting to the Countess that she has other plans in mind. The Countess forms a strategy of her own and convinces Ada to follow her pursuits. She then assumes Ada’s identity in the hopes of escaping her own impending marriage to a dreadful choice before entering the Glittering Court.
Now, amidst other jewels (the name the Thorns have given to this year’s crop of young women) the Countess takes Ada’s full name of Adelaide and begins her training, but it isn’t until Cedric recognizes her that her adventure truly begins.
There are multiple layers to everything within and the story is almost told in different stages of development. This very episodic nature takes you on a whirlwind of a journey, one that promises romance and dynamic thrills at every juncture. Adelaide’s enterprise requires that she constantly protects her noble lineage, that she dodges danger left and right. There are numerous chances for her to be discovered and removed to her ancestral family home (and a deplorable future). This lends a reverse Anastasia feel to the book that I enjoyed immeasurable – a young woman pretending to be someone else who knows that she is a peeress but has to do whatever she can to remain common (I do love impostor plot lines!). Adelaide cannot attract attention even as she finds herself excelling at certain things (while purposely botching others). All the while she learns to scheme to keep herself in her precarious position…and she finds an equally devious partner along the way in Cedric Thorn.
There are things about Cedric that must be kept secret too, things that could destroy not only his family but also his very life should they become exposed. Cedric acquires a mischievous partner in Adelaide, a woman who he is unequivocally attracted to. He must devote the same attention to her as he would to any of her peers in the Glittering Court, especially Tamsin and Mira, Adelaide’s closest friends. In this world, favoritism is deadly.
Tamsin is a very ambitious girl, almost grasping in her attempt to scale the top of the Glittering Court. The jewels have three coveted spots at the top of the pecking order and Tamsin has her eyes set on the incomparable diamond status. The three top spots secure the most special party invites and the highest hopes of a tremendous marriage. Tamsin will do whatever it takes to achieve that status even at the cost of her own friendships. Soft-spoken Mira is another case entirely. Mira is of Sirminican heritage and her darker skin sets her apart from the Osfridians and the Lorandians (who present a more traditionally European countenance). Mira seems more interested in escaping the court at night-time, and ranging throughout her surroundings on her own, than in being consumed by the social pressures of the court. Both women play a heavy part in the story and in Adelaide’s future and, I suspect, will get their own book each in this planned trilogy. And I positively cannot wait. There are things in their stories that have gone unsaid, questions unanswered, and holes left gaping. Mead promises that these things will make more sense at the close of the trilogy. Again, I cannot wait.
There’s a fascinating rich and real feeling to this world. Mead has injected so much life in every aspect. Take the religious beliefs of the followers of Uros, Adelaide’s angel-based faith, versus those of the Alanzan, another angel who turned from the flock and fell towards darker pursuits. This in itself could have overpowered the story but it never did, instead adding a complicated flavour to the characters that also helps propel the plot. There is also the plight of the Icori verses the colonists, which recalls the Native Americans and the Purtians of our own history. Throw in a dash of pirates, a secondary sect of settlers on a remote island, the presence of narrow-minded bigotry, true love, lust, gold prospecting, and badass women who kick so much tail and you have this awesome book that just astounded me. Truly. Because I am astounded.
I picked this up and I could not put it down, nor did I want to for the few days that I read it. It consumed me in a way that I have not been consumed for some time. I loved every word, every character, and every nook and cranny of this book. And I will read it again when its sequels come out.
5 out of 5 stars. And a spot in my top three favourites for the year.
I loved The Glittering Court. It’s that simple.
* The Glittering Court releases April 5th, 2016. An advanced reader’s copy was provided for review from the fine folks at Razorbill/PenguinRandomHouse.
– Follow the Reader –