AUTHOR: Ellen Goodlett
SERIES: Rule, #1
RELEASES: September 11th, 2018; Little, Brown
AGE RANGE: YA
SYNOPSIS: The king is dying, his heir has just been murdered, and rebellion brews in the east. But the kingdom of Kolonya and the outer Reaches has one last option before it descends into leaderless chaos. Or rather, three unexpected options.
Zofi has spent her entire life trekking through the outer Reaches with her band of Travelers. She would do anything to protect the band, her family. But no one can ever find out how far she’s already gone.
Akeylah was raised in the Eastern Reach, surrounded by whispers of rebellion and abused by her father. Desperate to escape, she makes a decision that threatens the whole kingdom.
Ren grew up in Kolonya, serving as a lady’s maid and scheming her way out of the servants’ chambers. But one such plot could get her hung for treason if anyone ever discovers what she’s done.
When the king summons the girls, they arrive expecting arrest or even execution. Instead they learn the truth: they are his illegitimate daughters, and one must become his new heir. But someone in Kolonya knows their secrets, and that someone will stop at nothing to keep the sisters from their destiny… to rule.
I feel like I say this all the time, but sometimes you find a story that is so hyped, and has this gorgeous cover, and loads of marketing coverage, and between all of that, people start thinking, It’s got to be good, right? And then, the reviews start rolling in, and the responses are less excitable than we all hoped they would be, and I find myself wondering how many stories were given no marketing at all—better stories, stories that deserved the hype—to make room for one that didn’t.
“There are a million shades of gray, especially when dealing with kings.”
Sadly, this book is a prime example of that scenario. I almost passed on this one altogether, because my gut feeling was that it would be a disappointment, but when it went up on “read now” status on Netgalley, I decided I’d take a gamble, and man, did I regret that decision. I almost DNFed this so many times, but it was a quick enough read, with enough things that made me downright angry, that I had to finish it (plus, my buddy read partner and I agreed that it was opening up the floor for some hilariously salty rants/conversations, at least).
All you really needed to know to tithe was the anatomy of your body and the lengths to which you could push it.
My single biggest problem with this was the world-building—or the complete lack thereof, I should say. There’s a very important magic system in the story, yet we make it through almost the entire first half of the book before we get even a touch of history or explanation, and what we are given is nothing more than bread crumbs. The only things we learn about the world are vague explanations given through political debates, and the plot holes are absolutely blaring.
Even if her father killed her, he could not escape this. Do your worst, Father. I’ve already done mine.
There are some interesting aspects to the plot—such as the involvement of the Vulgar Arts, which one of our three ladies has committed herself to despite risk of certain execution—but even these bits weren’t explored nearly enough. I understand that it’s only the first book in the series, but I don’t believe in saving all of your world-building for the second book; to me, that’s not a sign of good writing.
She was going to die. The same way she’d lived. Alone in a family of vultures on a cliff at the edge of the world.
On top of the writing itself, very little of what happens lends to any suspension of disbelief. Characters constantly do big things and receive small consequences, if anything. One character takes on a fight she should realistically never win, and then nearly does win via cheating—which everyone is aware she is doing, yet nobody investigates. Even at the base level of the plot, when the three girls learn the big twist that they’re royalty, none of them are surprised or spend even a second’s thought in denial; they just go along with it without hesitation, which struck me as not only naïve, but also incredibly bizarre. The list goes on, but I won’t keep you here all day.
Mother always said “the gods make jokes of us all,” but this was pushing it, even for them.
The biggest things I want to talk about are the content warnings that I’m seeing very few reviews mention. This book deserves a huge content warning for self-mutilation, which is literally the basis of the magic that everyone in the story utilizes. On top of that, there are themes of child abuse, alcoholism, kidnapping, and royalty abusing commoners (including forcing famine on entire masses of people). The rest of these things are challenged, of course, but I wanted to be very clear in that, if you are triggered by depictions of self-harm, please proceed with caution!
She could not develop feelings. Not for Rozalind. Not for her father’s wife.
The last thing I want to mention (read: rant about) is the romance in the story. Each of the three girls has a love interest, and none of the blossoming relationships are even remotely enjoyable to watch unfold. One character is in love with her childhood best friend, but when we meet him, there’s no chemistry. Another character has a sexual history with a man from a neighboring area, who seems to genuinely care for her, but she spends the entire book acting like a spoiled child who’s been blinded by privilege every time he speaks to her. The third girl’s love interest is a woman, which should be great—yay, sapphic representation!—but falls short thanks to a nasty case of insta-love (as well as the fact that it’s the girl’s step-mother, which is a bit awkward).
I genuinely didn’t mean for this entire review to turn into one massive rant, but I can’t help myself. This book was such a tragedy from start to finish, and while the ideas behind it were interesting at times, it failed terribly for me. When I started writing this review, I thought I would give the book 2 stars, but after working out all of my feelings onto paper, I’m realizing this is a 1.5-star read at most. If you don’t mind mediocre fantasy with a lot of plot holes, go ahead and give it a try, but if you’re someone who reads a lot of fantasy and has come to expect a certain level of depth, I don’t recommend picking up Rule.
All quotes come from an advance copy and may not match the final release. Thank you so much to Little, Brown for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review!
Buddy read with the amazing, hilarious, salty Kaleena. ♥