Sometimes, when I read a book, it exceeds all my expectations. Nathalie Mallet achieved this with The King's Daughters. I enjoyed the ending so much that most of my nitpicky complaints that I had about it before that point have faded from my consciousness.
Which is just the way it's supposed to be.
I must admit that I didn't expect much from this book. This isn't to say that I did not enjoy reading The Princes of the Golden Cage. I did--immensely. And here's my review to prove it. But all too often, second novels in open-ended series like this become annoying. This novel had a couple of strikes against it. One is that the romance--which I didn't feel all that fired up about to begin with--seemed resolved. When a romance is resolved, the next book in the series often feels tacked on and unnecessary. That's why you end up with The Ever-Romance, a plot device that plagues the Mystery genre.
The other strike against it was that there were only two familiar characters from the first book--Amir and Eva. Now I understand that this was an asset to the book, not a flaw. By starting with a bunch of new characters, Ms. Mallet made it unnecessary to have read the first book to enjoy the second. Plus, she introduces some wonderful new characters.
But first, I suppose I ought to present you with the blurb.
Far to the north of the hot desert land of Telfar lies the frozen kingdom of Sorvinka . Prince Amir has traveled there, leaving his sultanate in the hands of his half-brother Erik as he seeks to ask the king, the father of the beautiful Princess Eva, for her hand in marriage.
But Sorvinka has grown dangerous during Princess Eva's absence, as she and Amir discover to their terror, when their force of guards and eunuchs is cut down by ruthless brigands. And upon their arrival, their welcome to Eva's family stronghold is as bitterly cold as the land itself.
Accustomed to the golden cage of his upbringing, Prince Amir must navigate his way through the strange and cold-blooded customs of the Sorvinkans, and somehow find the truth behind the kidnapping of the king's youngest daughter, the Princess Aurora, by the Sorvinkan’s traditional enemies, the neighboring Farrellians. But what can a stranger in a foreign land do?
With many apologies to Night Shade Books, I think the question at the end of this blurb weakens the blurb.
Oh, and I may as well get the one nitpick that I recall out of the way, and that is punctuation. This was also a problem in Princes. Ms. Mallet is Canadian and for the most part, the fact that English is her second language only enhances the novel. It is written in an exotic voice that works perfectly, filled with word choices that a native speaker might not make. But improperly punctuated questions continue to be a problem. We all make grammar mistakes, and usually that is the job of a copyeditor to catch them. I know that sometimes authors refuse to accept the input of a copyeditor. However, I have a hard time believe that such a new author would be so arrogant. In any case, I hope the next novel--which I'm greatly looking foward to--undergoes a more rigorous copyediting phase.
Back to the story. Amir and Eva's welcome at the Sorvinkan court is indeed, quite cold. Amir makes a terrible first imprssion, and seems to have absolutely no help from Eva, who is his fiance, and who lets him make some cringeworthy breeches of protocol. Eva, who had seemed so capable in Princes, because very princess-ly in this novel, which is OK because we didn't get to know enough about her in Princes for this to seem like a character inconsistency.
Eva became very annoying in this book. She did inexplicable things and left Amir hanging out to dry. I was going to count this as a flaw in the book . . . but it turns out that Ms. Mallet knew exactly what she was doing. And how she resolved it is one of the reasons I found the ending so satisfying.
One of the eunichs, Milo, becomes Amir's personal servant--indeed, Amir must make him his personal servant in order to keep him alive. Because the "cold welcome" to the court was actually achieved at the point of a sword. Milo has all the makings of a great sidekick. Another character, Diego, makes a great counterpart to Amir and Milo. Diego is a court dandy. One phrase from the novel sums up Diego perfectly: "He cringed so forcefully that one could've believe he had just sucked on a lemon."
As Ms. Mallet did with her first novel, she brings all the various plot threads together brilliantly. I can't think of anything left unexplained, except some new tidbits that she came up with toward the end for subsequent books. I recall in Princes that she did this almost to a fault. Here, it was just about perfect. She also brings in some Russian mythology and folklore into the story--some really strange stuff--weaves it brilliantly into the story.
She aimed the series squarely at an Eastern setting for the third book, and perhaps a Spanish for the fourth. I must admit that I can hardly wait.
In my opinion, you're not going to find such good entertainment for $7.99 anywhere else. If you like blends of mystery and fantasy, non-white protagonists, clashes of culture and open ended series, then this novel should be great fun. And the next book, Death in the Traveling City, intrigues by its very name!