(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
Caliandra, the teenage princess of Barra, is in dire straits.
Not only did her fiancé break off their engagement and leave her for a richer woman, but Caliandra’s father is gravely ill – and if her brother Valric is unable to find the cure he’s set out for, their titles and wealth will disappear. Their father had been chosen as king by a magic axe, and when he passes on, so does the crown.
Soon, the worst befalls the princess – Valric turns up dead, her father succumbs to disease, and the axe goes missing, leaving the throne open for a coup by the devious Minister of War. Caliandra and her mother decide to risk everything on a desperate bid to find the axe and oust the Minister, driven by a prophecy that the proper King will take his place – Caliandra.
But when she finds out which trusted family friend betrayed her brother, will Caliandra’s thirst for revenge sabotage her only chance at the crown?
[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]
If I could describe King Callie (both the book and the title character) in one word it would be ‘underwhelming’. For a story with magic, prophecy, revenge and intrigue, this book is kind of boring.
Caliandra as a character is thoroughly underwhelming. She mopes around about being ditched for a richer woman for most of the book and then spends the rest of the book getting mad at the people who are actually just trying to help her (and actually end up putting her on the throne). I don’t mind characters with generally unlikeable personalities as long as they’re interesting but Callie wasn’t. We’re told she’s driven by revenge for her brother Valric’s death but you never really feel that anger and desire for revenge. It manifests itself in stupid actions like challenging her own guards to a duel but as a reader you really don’t feel that desire for revenge. And for someone who grew up at court, she’s strangely naive when it comes to plotting. Sure, I’ll go help you two mysterious ladies kill the Seer who sent my brother to his death! By the way, maybe I should ask you why you want this guy dead instead of just going along with it? Yes, I get that she’s young and inexperienced but at the same time I expect at least a little bit of a sense of self-preservation when she actually grew up at court. Courts aren’t exactly the most honest, open places in the world.
The plot seemed to be convoluted in the beginning because there were so many names thrown at the reader at once but it’s really not. It’s your typical evil General trying to seize the throne at an opportunistic moment sort of thing. The only interesting parts were with the Seer, who happens to work for a shadowy organization that may or may not be evil. We’re not entirely sure at this point and I’m not particularly inclined to find out. Really, the only interesting character that can actually plot is Caliandra’s mother, who Caliandra spends most of the time undermining or insulting for being too womanly or suggesting Callie should tone things down. Unfortunately, the book is not really about Callie’s mother. I really do love books with lots of political maneuvering and on the surface there’s plenty here but it’s actually all very shallow and follows the same old political tropes you’ve read a hundred times before.
One of the only things that I actually found on par with my relatively middling expectations was the world-building. I liked the fact that this magic axe chose the next king. (Why not? It’s no more ridiculous than relying on the dubious merits of a king’s offspring simply because they are his offspring.) I also liked the scenes with magic, particularly in regards to the Seer’s prophecies and how he chose to interpret them. One of the things I was fairly impressed with is that B. Lynch actually acknowledges that a kingdom does not exist in a vacuum and when the king dies, other kingdoms are fairly opportunistic. They really do like to kick their opponent when said opponent is practically on its knees. Of course that’s very realistic and in line with the history of almost every country in the world.
So despite the good world-building I have to say that King Callie was underwhelming. It’s not the worst book I’ve ever read and I’d even hesitate to call it a ‘bad’ book but it certainly wasn’t the most enjoyable book I’ve ever read. It really does feel like there was so much potential that was just squandered.
I give this book 2/5 stars.