Hardcover, 400 pages
Published January 10th 2013 by Dial
Tamora Pierce meets George R. R. Martin in this smart, political, medieval fantasy-thriller.
There is a new king on the throne of Tildor. Currents of political unrest sweep the country as two warring crime families seek power, angling to exploit the young Crown’s inexperience. At the Academy of Tildor, the training ground for elite soldiers, Cadet Renee de Winter struggles to keep up with her male peers. But when her mentor, a notorious commander recalled from active duty to teach at the Academy, is kidnapped to fight in illegal gladiator games, Renee and her best friend Alec find themselves thrust into a world rife with crime, sorting through a maze of political intrigue, and struggling to resolve what they want, what is legal, and what is right.
I don’t know why I haven’t heard more about this book around the blogosphere. As far as debuts go, this one is really solid. I am really demanding where high fantasy is concerned especially where worldbuilding is concerned because if the worldbuilding isn’t done right, the entire novel flounders. The Cadet of Tildor presents a fractured world, one where three different factions battle in three different ways to rule. There is magic, there are sorcerers, there is a school for spies and sorcerers in training, there is a young king and there is adventure.
One of the more interesting things about this novel is the construction of its protagonist, Cadet Renee de Winters. She, unlike her cohorts, is rather more human. She has very little power but she has a lot of courage. She is not super special snowflake-status good at anything but she works hard; she works really, really, hard. And she’s flawed. She makes the wrong decisions and she pays the price. She speaks out of turn and she apologises. I love how real she is.
I enjoyed the strife, the conflict, the political maneuverings in this novel. There are no true blue love interests and while there are some feelings, they are secondary and mostly unresolved and for someone like me who likes the focus to be on things other than romance, this works perfectly. Of course, for those who love to organize themselves into various teams, this will be a turnoff. At the heart of it, this novel is a bildungsroman of sorts, a coming of age story. We get to see Renee grow up, face the music, get hurt and get up and keep moving. She realizes her potential and while she still has a lot to learn, she finally sees herself as valuable.
Of course, this book isn’t perfect. There are so many things unresolved at the end, especially the matter with the best friend who acts like the biggest douchebag on this side of town. He is so callous that it made me wonder what or why Renee ever liked him. The story doesn’t seem completely resolved so the potential for a sequel is there and I hope someone pays Lidell to write it. Another thing that bothered me was the ease with which people seemed to travel from one city to another. In a historical setting, travel of any kind is dangerous even to the wary and for Renee to travel so easily even with wandering bandits and other villainous folks around seemed a bit too easy.
All complaints aside though, this book was a really satisfying read. Solid and substantial, its themes of the freedom of choice versus the safety of the general population kept my brain occupied for a good while. I recommend it.