I received this book for free from Penguin Random House Australia in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
To escape an arranged marriage, a countess impersonates her housemaid and joins the Glittering Court, an exclusive finishing school for lower class girls, teaching them to be worthy wives for the new nobility of Adoria, a new settlement across the sea. But Adelaide’s subterfuge is detected by the handsome Cedric Thorn, son of the owner of the Glittering Court, and they fall madly in love. How can Adelaide marry for luxury when her heart belongs to someone else?
I was mistaken about two things with this book. Firstly, even though I’d read the blurb a few times, I still thought it was about girls going to an actual court, as in royalty, so I was a little disappointed that never happened. It doesn’t mention it in the blurb, but calling it The Glittering Court and with my love of princesses, I had some kind of reading comprehension fail. The other thing that surprised me was the training the girls underwent in the Glittering Court only lasted 100 pages in a 400 page novel. I seriously thought there was going to be 400 pages of training! The rest of the 300 pages was about travelling to Adoria, and potential suitors, and Adelaide’s problem, and then the solution to that problem, which I all thought was very well done. So it really was nothing like what I expected, but I found it hugely enjoyable nonetheless.
I just want to point out that a lot of people think Adelaide ran away from an arranged marriage to an arranged marriage, but the whole point of the Glittering Court is that the girl gets a say in who she marries. It’s like with the Companions in Firefly: A companion chooses her clients, and the girls from the Glittering Court get to choose their husbands from the men who make an offer on her.
Adelaide was really a wonderful character to read about. She’s sassy and smart and speaks her mind. She started off as a countess and went through so much learning about life outside the nobility and eventually became a hard manual labourer, ruining her hands and skin. It was really cool to see her come to terms with her new life and also make realisations of those around her who weren’t in her same sphere of privilege. She adjusted remarkably well to her whole world being turned on its head not once, but twice. She went from denying her title to working in the very hardest of jobs that isn’t slave labour, full circle to return to claim her title. Her character growth seemed slow in the first half of the book where she was pretending to be an average ‘jewel’ in the Glittering Court, but it really ramped up once she was out of that environment.
Her love interest, sweet-natured Cedric, was a red-head, which I don’t think is very common, but I found it alluring, and he was a genuinely good guy who only wanted the best for the girls at the Glittering Court, which I found refreshingly charming as an antidote to hostile and rude love interest who treat girls like dirt. This led him to taking on some girls who might not find it so easy to attract a suitor, such as Mira, a dark-skinned but stunningly beautiful refugee, and Adelaide’s friend. Tamsin, the other girl who makes up this trio of girl power, was fun to watch as she clearly stated her ambitions and didn’t much care who she needed to walk over to get there. I have no idea how this series is going to continue but I really hope we get a book each from Tamsin and Mira’s point of view (I just looked it up on Goodreads and apparently that’s exactly what we’re getting!). They are both still pretty mysterious to me, and it’s OK that they had secrets because Adelaide had the biggest secret of all, and that’s why she was so good at everything at the Glittering Court.
I do still have some questions left unanswered such as where did Mira keep sneaking out to and what was Tamsin’s big secret? But apart from those little threads left unwrapped and hopefully addressed in future books by the girls’ point of view, I had no issues with Mead’s writing. It’s smooth, easily digestible, and I loved the descriptions of the beautifully lavish dresses and even the not-so-lovely ones. I really enjoyed looking at the extravagance of the not just the upper-class but the minor nobility and found it more entertaining and enveloping than most of the princess novels I’ve read.
The romance was sweet and fluffy and nicely developed through friendship and mutually admiration. There was no real love triangle even though Adelaide had several marriage prospects she kind of seemed resigned to, and the villain was uncomfortably charming. I loved the fluffiness of the Glittering Court world and the grittiness of Adelaide’s new reality. Although I did get a bit of a shock to find the world so misogynistic in its treatment of women that I did at first wonder if this was a dystopian! But no, it’s a clever mix of alternate reality, historical and fantasy. I mean, I know women are resources and such but this took it to the extreme, where there was such a priority on ‘virtue’ that if a woman slept with a man she was considered spoiled goods and a free-for-all for all the men.
And I have to mention the setting, wow, I’ve never been interested in historical fiction books about settling the Wild West but this was pretty much what Adoria was, and it reminded me both of the depictions of the Wild West and early Australian settlers (not the convicts but the people who came over for the gold rush). I really felt like I was immersed in the world and could feel the oppressive heat of the sun as they panned for gold (GOLD PANNING LIKE YOU CAN DO IN HISTORICAL AUSSIE TOWNS) and the despair as Adelaide realised the floor in her shabby lean-to of a house was hard-packed dirt. And the natives wore tartan kilts and woad and had red or blonde hair, so that was cool.
It kept me up reading until 1am when I had work the next day, so I guess you could say the pacing was spot on. By now Richelle Mead knows all the tricks to get a reader to turn the page and ‘just one more chapter’ and ‘I’m almost near the end, I gotta find out what happens’ even though the book isn’t going anywhere, Nemo, you can totally just finish it tomorrow, BUT NO you have to finish it NOW because it’s so good!
Wow, most of my friends hated this book, or at least didn’t really enjoy it. Me? I love pretty dresses (maybe it comes from being six feet tall and never really feeling ‘girly’ in my life that I enjoy reading about these kinds of things?) and strong noble women who disguise themselves as something else only to realise their real power is in their nobility, and the frontier stuff really made me feel like I was ready about early settled Australia. I know as a white Australian I’m supposed to feel guilty for what my ‘ancestors’ did when they settled but the truth is, all my grandparents were immigrants, dude, and not even all of them were white. The book appears to be pro-colony but I suspect something interesting is going to happen with the natives in future books to turn this around, especially since most of the Osfridian ‘gentlemen’ just seemed to be beasts. I really enjoyed the novel, found the world-building just right, the characters enjoyable to read about, and I look forward to the next book.