Honestly, it has taken me forever to read and finish this book. When it first came out, I picked up The Queen’s Bastard by C.E. Murphy because I liked the concept of a Queen’s child born on the wrong side of the sheets. As I got into it the first time, I enjoyed tracking the similarities in the story to Queen Elizabeth I and several other female rulers. If I had a map, I could almost cross out and write over what the real countries are for the fictional ones in the novel. This is actually my favorite part of the novel, making the connections and the political intrigue, where the Queens outwardly support each other as sister-Queens and inwardly dislike each other. Keeping track of who was what Queen and their historical connection was more interesting than the story about Belinda.
Even though Belinda Primrose is the main character, I start to really dislike her half-way through the book. Part of the premise is the political dance between the various rulers and the schism caused by Aulun’s (England’s) break from Cordula’s religion, and the other part of this magic, called witchlight that some of the characters have. The reader learns that the original users of the witchlight are actually from another planet of dragons (at least, that’s my impression. And the dragons are also run by a Queen, so the men are amused that human-men are so against a female ruler).
So, Belinda is the illegitimate child of Queen Lorraine of Aulun and Duke Robert Drake; Drake is one of the men with the witchlight and he passes his gift onto Belinda. He is also Lorraine’s spymaster and Belinda is his greatest assest. But he’s never taught her about her magic, and isn’t there when she runs into another person with the ability. Instead it is Javier, the son of another Queen, who teaches her about this unique ability.
But, I still don’t like Belinda. I understand that she is a spy and an assassin and that brings out certain undesirable traits. I’ve done that with some of my own characters. But when she uses her witchlight, it awakens sexual feelings in her and I feel she abuses that. There are several scenes in the book of her manipulating the people around her into sleeping with each other and I have several problems with that. For one thing, she is cruel about it. For another, I think it’s rape because her victims are captivated by something that they don’t know about and can’t fight. In the end, I think many of the scenes are drawn out and unnecessary. I often skip over them.
The other point I don’t like is her ambition. I understand that it comes from the desire to impress her father, but she is a spy and spies are supposed to keep a low profile. Her current assignment is to find evidence if Queen Sandalia is actively plotting about Queen Lorraine and Belinda uses Javier to try and find that evidence. Javier is a prince and a public figure, but that couldn’t be avoided. But Belinda makes herself a public figure and eventually tries to push for a movement against Lorraine with her alter-ego. Her ambition and desire to create and destroy a rebellion to get recognition for herself is something that shouldn’t be in a spy. She has been willing to work in the shadows up to this point, but this assignment and the awakening of her witchlight pushes her ambitions to the forefront. It works to show what the witchlight does to her, but she should have the control to not let it control her and push down on her desire. Because she builds a shaky tower of lies and even she recognizes that it could explode and topple around her. But she continues to push.
And there are so many other interesting characters. Javier could be, but as a prince, you get the impression that he doesn’t know how to play some of the political games that the others do. He is manipulated by the women around him, although he could end up being a key player because of his witchlight. But his one friend, Eliza, is fascinating and vanishes about halfway through the book. She is a street-rat and in love with Javier; she is also a fashion designer and a great one. Murphy could take her so many places and instead, Eliza slips from our fingers into the depths of the novel.
However, there is a second book The Pretender’s Crown, so hopefully, everything can b e redeemed. Although, it will be interesting since Belinda’s occupation as a spy was outted in front of Queen Sandalia’s Court and many people know who she is now. Without the ability to hide her identity, she isn’t going to be able to spy anymore. And Lord Drake is going to have to do something about her abilities and track down who fathered Javier. Ambition has brought them all low. I have a feeling no one told them that “The higher you are, the harder you will fall.”