Firstly, thank you to Julie Crisp who sent me an early digital copy of The Councillor to review. This did not influence the opinions shared in this review.
This is a gripping story with fully developed characters, beautiful prose and a fresh approach to the fantasy genre that was a joy to read.
The Councillor is a debut novel by E.J. Beaton, in what I believe is designed to be a duology. It is a Machiavellian fantasy tale that offered me something completely new and fresh. It is dominated by political intrigue, unique characters and a well established world. This is a book where you do not know what is going to happen, and then when the penny drops, it all makes sense. That feeling when you put all the pieces of the puzzle together was amazing.
“Strength without swords.”
“How does one conquer without a sword? Without a weapon?”
“The real leader conquers with her mind.”
One of the many strengths of this story is the prose. It is rich, but stripped back as well, in what I thought was a perfect style for the tone, in dripping bits of information slowly, whilst allowing the plot to progress. There is a lot to take in, but E.J. Beaton brilliantly avoids unnatural exposition, and expertly implements it into the story.
My favourite part of this story was the characters. Rarely have I had the pleasure to journey through a story with such developed, refined and believable characters, from the central protagonist and PoV, Lysande, to the supporting cast of Derset, Litany, Luca Fontaine and many more. Accompanying this, their dialogue was masterful, and managed to relay their motivations and personalities wonderfully. If for nothing else, you must read The Councillor for these figures!
“Confidence before the nobility. Humility before the people. Books had a strange way of making themselves useful in your life, words sprouting up when you least expected them.”
The plot of The Councillor is driven primarily by political intrigue, interactions and the acquiring of information, where Lysande tries to discover who murdered her Queen, and who to choose as the next ruler. This is done in a way that builds the tension from page one all the way to a huge climax at the end. And when I say ‘huge’, that is what I mean. The story erupted into an epic scale in one of what is only two action sequences, with an immersive, shocking bang. The only factor that pulls this from being a perfect read is that there was probably a small part in the middle third that I thought was focused more on the bigger picture, when I was just yearning for more of those wonderful character interactions. But that by no means is a bad thing, it means that it was great, but just dipped from brilliance temporarily.
‘Oh, you could tell yourself that you were doing it for the people and you could turn the pages of tracts in your mind, making all the connections to justify it, but it was still a ladder, stretching up into mist, the top obscured. For the people — the other side of that coin was the people for oneself.’
The Councillor has been advertised as a Machiavellian fantasy. And indeed it is! It is full of brilliant political intrigue and twists and turns throughout. But, whilst this is great, I would say that the shining light of this debut is the characterisation. It is some of the best that I have had the pleasure to read in fantasy. Each character is fleshed out, fully developed and acts in ways that complies perfectly with their motivations. It was wonderful to read.
The Councillor comes out on March 2nd. I would recommend this to most fantasy readers, due primarily to the fantastic characters and overall new approach to the genre that was so fresh and engaging.