BOOK REVIEW | THE COUNCILLOR BY E. J. BEATON

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening

Hi I’m Dan and I’m going to share with you my review of E. J. Beaton’s The Council.

BOOK SYNOPSIS:

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This Machiavellian fantasy follows a scholar’s quest to choose the next ruler of her kingdom amidst lies, conspiracy, and assassination.

When the death of Iron Queen Sarelin Brey fractures the realm of Elira, Lysande Prior, the palace scholar and the queen’s closest friend, is appointed Councillor. Publically, Lysande must choose the next monarch from amongst the city-rulers vying for the throne. Privately, she seeks to discover which ruler murdered the queen, suspecting the use of magic.

Resourceful, analytical, and quiet, Lysande appears to embody the motto she was raised with: everything in its place. Yet while she hides her drug addiction from her new associates, she cannot hide her growing interest in power. She becomes locked in a game of strategy with the city-rulers – especially the erudite prince Luca Fontaine, who seems to shift between ally and rival.

Further from home, an old enemy is stirring: the magic-wielding White Queen is on the move again, and her alliance with a traitor among the royal milieu poses a danger not just to the peace of the realm, but to the survival of everything that Lysande cares about.

In a world where the low-born keep their heads down, Lysande must learn to fight an enemy who wears many guises… even as she wages her own battle between ambition and restraint. 

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Page count: 448

Publisher: DAW

DAN’S REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is E J Beaton’s debut novel and is described as a Machiavellian fantasy. Given the inspiration for the novel, the politics of this world are shaped by Beatons passion for that era. The plot involves everything that you would expect, from political intrigue, to sharp insights into privilege and power with fantasy elements intricately woven into this very intelligent, sophisticated and beautifully written novel. I think Beaton has weaved so much intrigue into every aspect of this world, as well as introducing her stunning world building, phenomenal characterisation and brilliant Innovation in the crafting of the history and the lore of this world. This installment has really setup this series so well. I think fans will be so engaged for what’s to come.

Never have I read a novel with so much intrigue as this, every facet of this book presented so many questions, from Lysande humble beginnings at the orphanage and the details surrounding her discovery in a war torn district, to the assassination of Seralin and everything that followed after her appointment as Councillor. It really is fascinating journey following her through the murky world of politics, through a fractured realm, not knowing who to call friend or foe. But the biggest mystery, was the information surrounding the ominous threat of the White Queen and her elemental army, as the details have formerly been hidden within the history books. Everything within this world is a tale of discovery for our main protagonist Lysande Prior, she’s the person that must unlock those secrets to save the realm. With so much to know, those pages keep turning and the eagerness to know more never ceases. For me this level of intrigue is what most readers will really love about this novel.

In all honesty when I started this novel I had misconception that their would be an overwhelming cast, with huge amounts of information to take in, with many complex political machinations, but what I quickly realised is that the execution of the plot is done in such a way that it allows you take in what’s happening at a steady pace and I felt that everything unraveled perfectly. I think multiple PoVs would have made the book feel so much more drawn out and a little tedious. As the execution of the plot was so skillful, it didn’t take the focus off the characterisation and made that aspect of the book shine a little brighter. As a more character driven reader I totally appreciated this approach. I feel some plot heavier books sometimes neglect adding that depth to the characterisation.

I had only basic knowledge of Machiavellian politics when I started the book. I wouldn’t say its essential but I think it would’ve deepened my appreciation. Its definitely inspired me to learn a little more about the history, also potentially do a reread before the second book arrives. You do really recognise the influences mainly in the way the Iron queen rules the realm of Elira. It’s very much about the fact that it’s better to be feared than adored and by extension the treatment of the Elementals is an obvious example of where that comes into play, as most of them find their ways to the gallows. During Lysandes constant reflection on her memories of their relationship, it really puts a focus on the politics and not just there relationship and gives a deep dive into Sarelins character at the same time. You see continuing influences in the strategies Lysande employs and the ruthless nature of the politics in the way that she engages the other rulers . So It’ll be interesting to see the journey that Lysande will take, from where she is in this novel to maybe arriving at the point of seeing the necessity of the Iron Queens philosophy. I found the historical political influences really interesting and very accessible and there are many great insights.

This novel features an incredibly rich well imagined cast of very morally grey characters, lead by the enigmatic Lysande the Councillor to the crown. The characterisation was phenomenal, the whole cast was incredibly well fleshed out , described with a level of intricate detail that totally draws you in and you become totally immersed in these characters stories. Our main protagonist Lysande is such a masterfully crafted character, I have to say that I loved her intellect and lust for knowledge, overwhelmed by her ambition and I envied her tenacity to succeed. Although she is a flawed character, I think her drug addiction really did humanise her and made her a very balanced character. She’s without question a hugely compelling character and is a formidable leading lady. Her constant periods of introspection gave her much greater depth, which fleshed her character out as much as possible. Our villain the ominous White Queen, Mea Tacitus character was so brilliantly executed that you genuinely shudder at the mention of her name! She really has the presence of malevolent god who strikes fear into all those within the realm. On a personal note she is literally one of the most finely crafted villains that ive come across and one of my personal favourites. For a character that only exists in the minds of our characters in this book, her impact was huge! That dynamic was really interesting and worked so well. So considering these two epic characters the battle for the realm seems like it will be an incredible journey. But I have an inkling it may not play out as we think it will…

The world building can only be described as beautifully vibrant, vivid and totally captivating. The attention to detail is astounding really making this novel burst into life.There are several brilliantly crafted kingdoms within this realm, rich with their own histories and cultural identities. Every nation did have its own religious and spiritual identity which helped define each nation with a little more depth. Beaton guides you through the grandeur of the capital, through the gothic cities of Rhime to the desert cities of the south with intricate detail painting some of the most ornate settings that are totally memorising. I really enjoyed seeing Lysande unearthing secrets from the history books as it was such a great opportunity to introduce so more depth to the world building and the magic and the Lore of this world. The strong world building in this first installment has really laid the foundations successfully for this series going forward.

This is a low magic fantasy, it is however central to this books plot, it does have a more of a traditional feel and isn’t overly complex in comparison to most modern magic systems. I really do prefer some mystery surrounding the magic system and I enjoy learning about the history and lore of a world and this is amongst the most memorable. The lore and the alchemy of this world is totally fascinating and very innovative and is totally intoxicating.I loved the fact that Chimaera is central to the elementals lore, really making it quite unique and was a phenomenal choice, as opposed to the over used mythical creature we all know to well. There is definitely more depth to the magic users of this world and you’ll be hooked on their history as much as everything else, I was left with so many questions.

For me the flawless lyrical prose was the best aspect of this novel and is what you’d expect given EJ Beatons background, but it does really heighten the experience of this intricate, nuanced, wonderfully elegant and engaging novel. Beatons prose could be easily compared to Robin Hobbs and I’d imagine going forward that Beaton will be standing shoulder to shoulder with some of the greatest authors within the genre.

It’s without doubt a totally fierce debut, it really was totally stunning, this book sets up this world for what promises to be a phenomenal series. This is one author we all need to keep and eye on, as its mind bending to think what heights this series could reach as we go further into this world. It is also an incredible introduction to Lysande Prior and I can see her becoming a totally iconic character amongst fantasy community!! As far as debut novels go, the bar has been officially raised!!!


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