The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead (The Glittering Court #1)

Genre: Historical, YA, Romance

Publisher: Razorbill on April 5, 2016

Source: Library

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Big and sweeping, spanning from the refined palaces of Osfrid to the gold dust and untamed forests of Adoria, The Glittering Court tells the story of Adelaide, an Osfridian countess who poses as her servant to escape an arranged marriage and start a new life in Adoria, the New World. View Spoiler »

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Before I get into my review, I need to get my major criticism out of the way: despite what the Razorbill marketing team would have you believe, THE GLITTERING COURT is not a fantasy novel. I would describe it as a historical fiction with some alternate history elements in the form of combined eras and changed names. The primary settings of Osfrid and Adoria are clearly England and colonial North America, respectively. That’s it. So while I could say that world building was an issue, in reality my expectations were just skewed to expect fantasy rather than historical fiction. You’ve been warned!

The lady formerly known as Elizabeth, Countess of Rothford is desperate to escape her privileged but stifling life – and an impending marriage to her vile cousin. The wily noblewoman hatches a scheme to leave her old life in the upper echelons of Osfridian society for a new adventure: she will pose as a common-born, uneducated girl to gain access to the Glittering Court, an organization that trains lower class girls to act like the gentry so they can be married off to successful men in the colony of Adoria across the sea.

There’s only one major hitch in the plan: Cedric, an employee of the Glittering Court, knows exactly who she really is. But the two forge a tenuous alliance, and Elizabeth becomes Adelaide Bailey, a beautiful and strangely accomplished lady’s maid. The scenes where Adelaide and her roommates Mira and Tamsin attend the Glittering Court’s finishing school to learn their trade (if you will) were some of my favourites in the whole book. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a boarding school setting!

But the three girls don’t remain at school for long and are soon shipped to Adoria, where Adelaide will learn that there are far greater challenges than unappealing cousins and competitive Court girls. For if someone were to discover who Adelaide used to be before she gets married, she will be shipped back to Osfrid and trapped in her old life. With her friends Mira and Tamsin otherwise occupied (more on that later), Adelaid finds herself growing closer to Cedric and confiding in him more and more. Soon, their friendship blossoms into something more…something forbidden because Cedric can’t afford the bride price of a Glittering Court girl.

In my opinion, the one thing that makes the GLITTERING COURT a unique read is also what undermined its success. See, this trilogy is an experimental storytelling format: Adelaide, Mira, and Tamsin will each tell the same basic story from their own perspectives, filling in the details of their own adventures in their stories. Pretty cool, right? Unfortunately, this means that we get very little real information about Mira and Tamsin’s past, present, and future activities in the GLITTERING COURT and they never feel like fully realized characters as a result. Suffice it to say that Richelle Mead’s clues about what Mira and Tamsin were up to were not subtle, but it was difficult to get invested in them even as just Adelaide’s friends when they felt so detached from the story. The foreshadowing necessary to establish their future story lines also contributed to some pacing issues and many parts of the book seemed to fly by too quickly and drag on, respectively.

THE GLITTERING COURT fits comfortably into the “book covers with girls in pretty dresses” genre; there’s not much in the way of originality, world building, or surprises. And yet despite all this it held a strange appeal, and I found myself enjoying the opportunity to “switch off” while reading. Recommended for fans of shallow historical fiction and YA beach reads, but fantasy readers might want to steer clear.

Have you read any bookish “marketing fails” recently? What are your thoughts on the pretty girls in dresses sub-genre of books? Let me know in the comments!