The theme of my post today is palace intrigue. The wicked excesses of royalty. The back stabbings (sometimes literally) that happen in court. The power, or lack thereof, that drive characters to dark deeds. . .
In Aurelia by Anne Osterland, an assassin is after Aurelia, the crown princess of Tyralt. But the object of the assassin's sword has no idea her life is in danger. She's weary of court, weary of the rules, weary of the class distinctions, weary of all of it because she's a fiery, free-spirited young woman who wants more than confinement. Enter Robert, the son of the court spy, who has been sent to keep Aurelia safe. They've always been friends but now perhaps their relationship can change to romance. . . if Aurelia isn't murdered first.
I started Aurelia but didn't get far. Somehow though I suspect that the things I found lukewarm, such as a so-so writing style and characters that I felt were hackneyed, won't matter as much to many readers as they did to me. The story seems fun, and take a look at that cover. That is a good cover, which as everyone knows is a great way to judge a book. Give it a try. Maybe I was too harsh on it.
A book I can highly and enthusiastically recommend is The Blood Confession by Alisa M. Libby. I think I blogged this one long, long ago but it deserves a mention here among the palace intrigue lot. The Blood Confession is a highly fictionalized account of Elizabeth of Bathory, the crazy countess whose claim to fame was bathing in the blood of virgins, believing this would restore her youth. Libby's character is Erzebet, who believes she has been cursed from birth when a comet tore across the sky, an obviously unlucky sign that led astrologers to make a grim prophecy for the young child. As she grows older, Erzebet becomes obsessed with the terrible idea that she will die young. . . and she begins searching for any way to keep herself from her fate. Her mother is stark raving mad, her father is always away, and her only friend is a peasant girl who stands as Erzebet's one chance not to fall into darkness. Oh, there is one other influence, a huge one, on the young royal. He is a shadowy man who appears to Erzebet, who seems to know her own mind, and who whispers alarming and seductive suggestions. And he may not be entirely mortal. . .
I love, love, love this book. It's a dark one, but Libby deftly writes Erzebet as a character one can understand, even feel compassion for. There is a chilling gothic feel to this novel. Lots of ladies in extraordinary dresses sweeping through the frigid halls of stone castles with blood on their hands. Too good to be missed.
And finally, The Curse of the Romanovs by Staton Rabin, a fictional tale of the royal Romanovs, focusing on the son with the "curse" that threatens his ascension to become the Tsar, and the religious mystic, Rasputin, who wields a frightening power. I haven't read this yet, but I like the cover (always a plus) and I like the premise. Warning: neither this nor The Blood Confession should be read as historically accurate. According to the flap of Curse of the Romanovs, the young prince Alexei, heir to the throne, travels through time to the twenty-first centuy in order to escape an assassination attempt by the mad monk. I cheated and looked ahead at the scene in which Alexei meets a contemporary girl (who happens to be a descendant of the Romanovs) and babbles to her in Russian, which of course she does not understand. Alexei is equally perplexed when the girl pulls a "small metal square" out of her back pocket and begins to speak to it. . .
This one looks good. And the male point of view is an interesting switch from the typical palace intrigue story. Go forth and be intrigued.