Book Review: The Stolen Kingdom

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Book Review: The Stolen KingdomThe Stolen Kingdom by Jillian Boehme
Published by Tor Teen on March 2nd 2021
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 320
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Source: NetGalley

For a hundred years, the once-prosperous kingdom of Perin Faye has suffered under the rule of the greedy and power-hungry Thungrave kings. Maralyth Graylaern, a vintner's daughter, has no idea her hidden magical power is proof of a secret bloodline and claim to the throne. Alac Thungrave, the king’s second son, has always been uncomfortable with his position as the spare heir—and the dark, stolen magic that comes with ruling.
When Maralyth becomes embroiled in a plot to murder the royal family and seize the throne, a cat-and-mouse chase ensues in an adventure of dark magic, court intrigue, and forbidden love.

The Stolen Kingdom is a pretty simple fantasy story for younger readers. Unfortunately, I found it  too simple for my liking, the character development a bit odd, even disturbing in one particular case, and the world-building quite weak. I also fervently wished the writing style had less telling and more showing. I also couldn’t help but notice that a lot of the plot lines seemed very similar to other very well-known fantasy novels. 


The story follows young Maralyth, who grows up on a very famous family vineyard. Maralyth loves the vineyard with all her heart, and even uses magic to help the grapes and vines along, despite her late mother’s intense, lifelong fears over the fact that her daughter has magic. One day, despite her mother’s many warnings, Maralyth is finally caught using her magic and kidnapped. To her surprise, her magic comes from the Dallowyn bloodline, meaning she is the rightful heir to the stolen throne, and its titular kingdom. With the safety of her family’s safety threatened if she chooses not to take up her role as rightful Queen, Maralyth reluctantly joins the plans for a coup and begins her royalty training.


This plotline gave me really strong The Queen of the Tearling vibes, but it just doesn’t compare to the other young adult novel. We don’t see any of Maraylth’s royalty training, which I think I can safely assume would need to be very intense, as she grew up on a vineyard, sometimes working out in the vines with male crew members, but spending most of her time in the kitchen. Unfortunately, we are just told in passing that her lessons on etiquette, manners, and the important families are given to Maralyth at some point.  This is in stark contrast to Kelsea, the heroine from The Queen of the Tearling, who spent her entire life in hiding, training, until she was ready to take back the throne. 


It wasn’t in these plans for her to fall for the King’s second son, Alac. Maralyth and Alac are instantly attracted to each other. Coincidentally, the prince also has a keen interest in wine-making and hates the dark magic that consumes his family after they stole it from the rightful royal line. Outside of resenting losing his father and brother to the grip of this magic, and his interest in winemaking, there’s not a whole lot to Alac. Maralyth, with her caring heart and quiet observance, is the stronger character. 


“Regardless of my attempts at guarding my heart, he’d wormed his way in. If I landed on the throne, I would spend the rest of my life regretting the loss of this funny, kindhearted, thoughtful prince who defied everything I’d come to believe about him and his family.”


I wish I could say readers are in for a treat to watch these two on a star-crossed lovers romantic collision course, as Maralyth and the nobles supporting the Dallowyn bloodline prepare for the coup, but they just aren’t. Maralyth and Alac are really just another case of instalove, with the two only interacting on a handful of occasions throughout the mere two weeks that they know each other. But it’s not their stilted courtship and shallow instalove that bothered me the most, it was what came after the coup attempt. Instead of being happy that Maralyth, the girl he has feelings for, saved his life during the culling of the rest of the family, Alac is furious at her betrayal and imagines a whole slew of violent things he wants to do to her in recompense, all in first person:


“I wanted to take her by the hair and slam her into the ground. Yell at her face until she shrank away, small and defeated. Throw her from a high wall and watch her fall.”


Yikes, just yikes. I couldn’t help but to be very disturbed and alarmed by Alac’s thoughts. Clearly Alac was not the prince charming he appeared to be. I was even more appalled and concerned for Maralyth when she reentered a relationship with him. I was very taken aback by his feelings, and clearly Maralyth obviously has no idea about the inner murderous thoughts of Alac.  I honestly don’t know why anyone thought these violent urges about the main female character, especially those of the main male protagonist/love interest and not some evil villain were a good idea to publish, let alone in a novel geared toward impressionable younger audiences. My only guess was that perhaps the author was going for a bit of Red Wedding feeling from Game of Thrones, as the coup does take place at a wedding. Perhaps the author was just hoping to make her characters appear deeply hurt and conflicted, but it very much missed the mark, and instead made the main love interest look like a potential murderer. It felt much more like writing the beginning of a vengeance arc for Alac, than him still being in love with Maralyth and conflicted about the role she had in the killing of his family.


As an adult,  I really couldn’t ignore Alac’s statements, combined with his obsession with having the woman he supposedly loved executed for the death of a family he never really liked anyways. Because of all of his inner thoughts, the happy ending of the novel, with Alac and Maralyth kissing me made me feel a bit ill. I couldn’t help but wonder if he would harm or worse, murder Maralyth at the first opportunity. Not a concern I like to have in my romances. And she allows him to leave and to study winemaking with her family, who has been used to hold her hostage before, so clearly no lesson has been learned there. To me, this situation seems more like a setup for future horrible political betrayal and takeover in a sequel than an actual happy ending.


Unfortunately, there’s not much to be said for the rest of the cast of characters either. Other characters are one dimensional and flat, only showing up when it’s convenient to move the plot forward in some manner. To make matters worse, we are told more about them than we are actually shown. For instance, we are flat out told, not shown, why Alac likes his best friend:


“That’s what I liked about Tucker–I could say things about my royal sibling that would normally be frowned upon  at best, and he didn’t miss a beat.”


 Alac’s best friend serves only as his personal guard when it’s convenient to need a guard in the story. He also serves as a confidant to the prince, but I know nothing else about the character outside of his service to his prince. We are not told about his family, his training, or his relationship with anyone other than the prince. Again, their friendship reminded me of a very pale imitation of another novel’s friendship, that of Prince Dorian and Chaol Westfield’s in the Throne of Glass series. Other characters aren’t much better off, with Maralyth’s father only being a tool to be used against her, and her brother only made another appearance at the end to have her graciously bestow upon him a position as a council member. And this was more to demonstrate what a great and wise Queen Maralyth was then for any other purpose. There’s simply no depth to secondary characters, and they are merely used as plot devices. 


Sadly, the world-building doesn’t make up for the lackluster, and odd in the case of Alac, character development. Though The Stolen Kingdom tells us how important it is that Alac’s family, the usurpers of the kingdom are overthrown, there’s not really much talk about how big the kingdom is, the kind of upheaval that happened when they murdered the last of the Dallowyn line, or how little they care for their subjects. Readers know nothing about if other kingdoms would like to see their rule overthrown and would support Maralyth’s coup, or anything else. After reading The Stolen Kingdom, I know nothing about the name of the world, the kingdom, or how the world would be affected by a coup. All we are told, in passing, is that every century or so is that a Dallowyn pretender tries to stake a claim on the throne and a resulting rebellion results, which makes me think the author has read The Wheel of Time series more than anything. But it doesn’t seem like there are any lasting effects of these rebellions as far as I can tell. As a result, I really wasn’t that invested in Maralyth’s ploy. The stakes just didn’t seem that high. 


The magic system has a bit more work put into it, but it is still only bare bones. We learn that the Dallowyn magic comes from the Holy Gods themselves, and that it is neither good or bad. The fact that Alac’s family, the Thangraves, murdered a Dallowyn king, who had made a deal with them to share the magic with them, is what made this stolen magic turn dark. That dark magic has cursed the Thangrave family ever since. Somehow, Maralyth can use the purer version of this magic, despite the Thangraves having supposedly stolen it, and doesn’t really need any training to learn how to use it. She just picks it up naturally as a child, and it becomes stronger over time. Knowing of her daughter’s true lineage, her late mother, who lived the rest of her life in disguise, warned Maralyth from using it for her own protection. 


Even after reading The Stolen Kingdom I’m not really sure what the purpose of it was or who exactly the intended audience was.  I’m not certain if it was supposed to be primarily a story of political intrigue, a romance, a tale of revenge, or a fantasy novel. What I do know is that it does not do any of these things particularly well. I also found it confusing that such a simplistic novel, especially for a fantasy story, seemed to have a lot more adult themes, such as kidnapping, graphic depictions and wishes for violence, and even the main character dealing with the unwanted affections of an older man. I feel that The Stolen Kingdom was trying to hit as hard and emotionally, as Game of Thrones, but it doesn’t even have an iota of  the complexity or development to do so. It is also marketed as a young adult novel, but I don’t feel it is intricate enough to be considered one, despite the sometimes more adult subject matter. I wish The Stolen Kingdom had decided more resolutely what it wanted to be, a romance novel with light fantasy elements, a coming of age novel with a strong heroine, a political fantasy novel with tons of intrigue, revenge, and scheming, or a novel suitable for young readers. In its failure to decide, the novel truly stymies itself, and is more of a perplexing read than an entertaining or enjoyable one. 


I wish The Stolen Kingdom had spent more time on developing every part of the novel, to be honest–from the world-building down to the most minimal side character. What was a good idea of star-crossed lovers, magic, rival claims to the throne, and a young woman coming into her own missed the mark, especially on the romance note. To me, it seemed more plausible that the novel ended political betrayal or domestic violence than with the happy ending it seemed to want to push at the same time it inexplicably made its male protagonist a villain.


If not for the murderous thoughts for one of the narrators, Alac, I would have said that The Stolen Kingdom might be a good place for very young teens to start their foray into fantasy. But I can’t in good conscience recommend this novel to younger readers, as I wouldn’t want my young teen thinking the romance between Alac and Maralyth is a healthy relationship model. Younger readers looking to explore fantasy would be better off sticking to authors like Tamora Pierce or Robin McKinley. I think if The Stolen Kingdom, which had so much potential in the root of its idea, had simply spent more time on creating its universe, bigger repercussions that did not concern violence between love interests, giving characters more of a role outside of each other, and writing with a more set audience in mind, I would’ve liked it a lot better. 


Book Review : The Stolen Kingdom - Blogging with Dragons

Posted February 1, 2021 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Young Adult


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