Series: Blood of Gods and Royals #1
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, High Fantasy
Release Date: August 18th, 2015
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Thanks directly to Eleanor Herman for this ARC copy of Legacy of Kings! (Thanks Harlequin Teen for creating this ARC, however).
Legacy of Kings is a wild, wild trip. It takes place right on the cusp of Alexander's claim to his destiny as one of the most accomplished leaders of the world.
I'm not a history buff, but I was totally drooling over this book. Herman has actually written non-fiction history before, and is well-acquainted with this time period. And it really shows. The usual contemporary YA interactions can be seen, to a degree, simply because that's the genre . . . but beyond that, the characters act on passion, impulse, and sheer whim most of the time, and everything is very Greek.
The setting and atmosphere are absolutely fabulous. From the first chapter, there's already the notion of scheming plots and certain death, and the tease of possible intimacy. The magical creatures and kings place it firmly in the hands of High Fantasy, but the book often refuses to use the loftiness of High Fantasy, opting to portray the great story of Alexander in less flowery, but no less bloody, undertones.
Though I hate comparisons like this . . . it might help someone who is unsure of Legacy of Kings: the writing style, to me, seems a slash halfway between George R.R. Martin and fantasy romance YA writers like Cassandra Clare. It took maybe half a chapter to get used to it, and it never really bothered me. In fact, Herman's language was one of my favorite parts. She makes such liberal use of italicized thoughts. I am a huge fan of italicized thoughts. I can't understand people who don't like this way of writing. It's beautiful, effective, and it really helps when characters are having butterflies and wanting to make out and or stab to death other characters.
The language really begins to shine about a quarter way through the novel, when the plot starts to surge forward and the novel picks up. Herman is glorious with action verbs and choreography. I was delighted to imagine her characters expertly murder other characters in such graceful, precise ways.
The plot is an absolute monster. To detangle it would take a very long time. There is no main "protagonist" like we are used to in YA, either. It begins with Kat, but quickly rotates.
I loved the characters. Herman really breathed to life historical figures of legendary status, with a flair. She portrays them just as human as their legends, but often in less of a complimentary light. Alex's ambition is accurate, but sour and bitter at the same time, as his ambition is in direct contrast to the people who deem him unfit because of his inauspicious scarred leg. It's that kind of thing that really made me eat this novel up, all of the characters are battling themselves and the world in some way and its marvelous. And there's a lot of characters, too.
Kat, for example, isn't in love with Jacob, who is willing to die for her. Kat's general demenour is about as polite as a bear. But she's kind and she's definitely a thief, as she stole my heart by the end of chapter one.
My other faves have to be Cynane, Alex's sister, and the queen, his mother, are scheming like hell at every point in the novel and I absolutely love them for it. Cyn especially. She's probably my top character because she has absolutely no regard personal space, and this often leads to some really interesting (and bad) situations. This includes Heph waking up to her face while having just had a dream about Kat and him having sex.
I have two major misgivings in the novel. First, the six-character narration is confusing. Kat, Haphaestion, Cyane, Zofia, Jacob, Alexander . . . I think it's six?
The problem with having so many POVs is simple: the story can become disjointed if the character's unique interests, motivations, and ways of managing information are not handled with perfect precision. Herman takes the road of least resistance by narrating these perspectives in the third person, but even then, it's not enough. Some characters sound too much like other characters to distinguish between each of them. This is understandable. An author's voice can only be so flexible in one piece while still trying to create an air of style. Not everyone can be George R.R. Martin. This could have been mended with a tag at the beginning of the chapter or reducing the amount of POVs. Three or four probably would have done the trick. Unfortunately, the confusing narration really did leave me turning back pages and trying to figure out what was going on.
My second misgiving is Alexander and Hephaestion's relationship. To me, I am just unsatisfied with how it is portrayed. Historically, the legends for these two individuals span between the greatest friends, to intimate lovers. You can research it in depth for yourself, but I'll shorten it here for you: Alexander's sexuality is not entirely clear, and much of his life is shrouded in legend. The ancient world is ripe with references to the Illiad, and one of the earliest ships is the pairing between Patroclus and Achilles. Though these two were not shown to be in an intimate relationship . . . basically half the ancient world including Plato shipped these guys harder than we ship Sherlock/John or Malec. And guess who made shrines to honor these heroes? You guessed it! Alexander and Hephaestion. Alexander even dies in a similar way to Achilles. Historians like Mary Renault postulate that Alexander, learning of Hephaestion's death, quickly deteriorated in health after losing the ability to care well for himself, similar to how Achilles acted recklessly after Patroclus's death. (Alexander's death is of course a matter of debate, but no matter the cause of his death, Hephaestion's death is contended to have had a stark negative effect.)
Given this, Alexander died, in part, because of grief. I'm not saying they are lovers. They have been portrayed as lovers and as friends in other adaptations of this history and both work just fine. I just wanted to give a summary of how extremely deep their relationship runs. However, in Legacy of Kings, this level of intimacy is not apparent. It seems to have been reduced somewhat to fit the novel. Heph definitely see's Kat and even Cyn in some kind of intimate (sometimes sexual) light, but on Alexander there seems to be a hesitation to really talk about him. Alexander's character in this novel is pretty reserved, and I'm glad he's somewhat ambiguous, opting to form a platonic relationship with Kat rather than a romantic one. While Alex obviously favors Heph, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of a really deep, lifelong connection. I was left unsatisfied, as much of their interaction hinged on the scheming and such. Their connection seems genuine, I just don't get the feeling from their narrative cues to each other that they will grow to be much closer than they are. Heph gives major major major narrative cues that he really wants to kiss Kat all the time. Literally all the time. And he gives nothing for Alex, beyond admiration, loyalty, and mild fear. That's friend-level. That is not die of grief level, nor does it indicate that their relationship will grow to that level.
The reason this didn't bring the novel under four stars, even though I just spent a lot of this review talking about it, is that Alex and Heph are still kids, and therefore there is still time for their relationship to develop. Much of Hephaestion's early life is speculation from the writings of contemporaries. If not for Alexander, we probably wouldn't know anything beyond his name. Even his early to mid teenage years are somewhat shaky. Secondarily, Herman doesn't really focus on romance. There's a little between Jacob and Kat, and Zofia has her own side-person, but to be honest, the novel is quite devoid of deep romance. I think what Herman does to his character to bring him alive, with all of his anxieties and quirkiness and kindness, is fantastic and reads quite well. The reason I wrote so much about it, though, is that the following books definitely need to capitalize on this legendary relationship in a grander and more intimate way, and I'm forcing future me to stay true to current me's standards.
In any case, neither of my misgivings made me really dislike the novel. In fact, I genuinely enjoyed it and I can't wait for Empire of Dust!
What is your favorite historical period?
Let us know in the comments!