*I was assigned this book for phase 1 of SPFBO 8*
The Courts of Fate and Fear has a lot to commend. Two neighboring countries, Sertra and Lithya, are facing high tension and mounting war. Sertra has a long history of magic users part of the royal family who can envision - that is, see into the future and plot the course of the country. Adelyn is a princess of Sertra, and she has no magic. Zilch. Nada. This, according to her father, makes her absolutely useless. She is mocked incessantly, forced to attend “training” sessions where every tactic known to man is tried, to try to bring out her envisioning. When it fails, she is sent into the Wilds - a forest bordering both Lithya and Sertra that is known for its bandits and monsters. She is to seek the Seer, to ask for help to bring out her magic.
But really, it’s a death sentence. She’s only sent with her handmaiden and a small escort of newly trained guards. Adelyn knows it, but still, she has no choice but to go along with it. It’s been ingrained into her to obey her father at all costs, and to “do what is best for Sertra”, even if that includes her basically being exiled and expected to die.
Through a series of events, she finds herself alone and on the run. She seeks refuge in what she thinks is an abandoned mansion. However, she finds that it is NOT abandoned, and meets four friends - Rohn, Ven, Asa, and Ell. Come to find out, they are Lithyan royalty, and she is escorted/forced into the Lithyan capitol.
Here, she finds the acceptance and kindness that she never experienced in her homeland. Although she is the princess of the enemy, the royal family extends grace and friendship. Adelyn is completely shocked - the kindness is completely foreign to her. Over the course of several months, she comes to love them. And she has come to realize that her own family is indeed the problem, not Lithya.
The plot itself is pretty straightforward - outcast princess with no magic, meets enemy family, falls in love with the prince (there are two pretty graphic sex scenes which I was surprised to find in a YA book). The characters were downright lovable, especially Asa and Ven. The romance was a little hard to believe - it seemed to happen quite quickly. Rohn goes from being courteous to Adelyn, then we are suddenly told he can’t keep his eyes off her. There isn’t much chemistry between them, due to the suddenness of it.
I wasn’t sure what to feel about the Lithyans being so kind to Adelyn. At first, it pulls at your heartstrings that she finally finds acceptance and kindness. But the fact that they gave her free reign of the palace, teach her to fight, and accept her into the family is a bit odd. The reason given is that the Lithyan royal family’s magical ability is to sense emotion, and they sense nothing nefarious in Adelyn. Still, it felt to be a bit too much of a stretch.
The magic system isn’t explained all that well. Towards the middle/end of the book it gets fleshed out a bit more, but even then, I was a little confused about how it worked exactly, given that sometimes it was explained as spells, sometimes you had to use words, sometimes you used hand motions, other times you had a string or thread that you sensed.
The worldbuilding was a bit dry as well. I didn’t get a good sense of anything, really, except the palaces and the Wilds. And when war does finally come, there were some things that just worked too well. All of the sudden, the Sertran palace is overtaken and boom, that ends the war. It didn’t make much sense. What about all the other towns and cities? Wouldn’t they have garrisons of soldiers, generals, supplies? Why would they just give up because the capitol city was taken? Why would the nobles go from loyalty to one king, and switch allegiance with the snap of a finger? Wouldn’t they have their own supplies, soldiers, wealth, influence? There is mention of the Sertran prince and the other princess, but only briefly. Wouldn’t the Sertrans fall behind one of them, and not a foreign king?
While there were many things that left me scratching my head, there were still good elements to this book. The writing was well done - although it could have used one more editing pass (there were missing words scattered throughout, or tense changes). There were characters you could root for, with engaging personalities. The idea that the main character could actually be on the wrong side and not even know it was interesting.
All in all, I feel this was a good book, generally, but could have used a lot more worldbuilding and some plot tweaks. For a YA story, though, I’m sure it will land well with some people looking for a quick, fun read with romance.