Bookpushers Joint Review – The Shattered Court (A Novel of the Four Arts #1) by M.J. Scott

The Shattered Court cover image

Publisher: Roc
Publish Date: 28 Apr
Reviewed by: E, Has, and Marlene
How we got this book: ARC from the publisher via Netgalley

Entangled in a court ruled by tradition and intrigue, a young witch must come to terms with newfound power and desire—and a choice between loyalty and survival.…

The royal witches of Anglion have bowed to tradition for centuries. If a woman of royal blood manifests powers, she is immediately bound by rites of marriage. She will serve her lord by practicing the tamer magics of the earth—ensuring good harvests and predicting the weather. Any magic more dangerous is forbidden.

Lady Sophia Kendall, thirty-second in line to the throne, is only days away from finding out if she will be blessed—or perhaps cursed—with magic. When a vicious attack by Anglion’s ancient enemies leaves the kingdom in chaos, Sophia is forced to flee the court. Her protector by happenstance is Lieutenant Cameron Mackenzie, a member of the royal guard, raised all his life to be fiercely loyal to the Crown.

Then Sophia’s powers manifest stronger than she ever imagined they would, and Cameron and she are inextricably linked in the process. As a witch unbound by marriage rites, Sophia is not only a threat to the established order of her country, but is also a weapon for those who seek to destroy it. Faced with old secrets and new truths, she must decide if she will fight for her country or succumb to the delicious temptation of power.…
This blurb came from the author’s website.

1. Thoughts on the Hero

E: Cameron took a little bit to grow on me but I absolutely fell for him as he stepped up and was not only strong enough not to take his grief or frustration out on Sophie but did everything he could to protect and care for her. Including teaching her how to defend herself and how to control what she did without any of the tutoring she should have received from the Temple. He solidified his position as the hero in my mind when he told Sophie he was loyal to the Crown but he also took vows to her and he would not violate those vows. He wasn’t perfect, but he was willing to make the best of his abruptly changed situation and he was also willing to listen to those who weren’t as completely tied or brainwashed to the Court, Temple and its current system. This ability to think outside of the approved structure made him both an asset and a potential threat. I really enjoyed watching him mature from a rather serious guard chafing under his father’s ambitions to a man more aware of political undercurrents and concerned with the realm not just the Royal family.

Has: I agree that it also took me awhile to get into Cameron’s character. Because of his previous relationship with the Queen-to-be and being the reluctant bodyguard for Sophie in the beginning of the book. But I really warmed up to his character, and I loved how Cameron was loyal and supportive towards Sophie when wild circumstances overtook them in the beginning which led to them being bonded magically. I also liked that despite the political and societal structure which would have given him a lot of pressure to betray Sophie when they were faced with a hard decision at the end of the story. It really showed how far he grew from the loyal guard to someone who thought independently and saw through what he was brought up with was not necessarily a good thing for him and Sophie especially with their magical abilities.

Cameron’s feelings for Sophie was also great to see evolving throughout the story although I wished we had more insight into how his feelings changed for her. It did feel a bit sudden, and while they were bonded magically, Cameron definitely illustrated his feelings was genuine but I wanted a bit more of that in their romance.

Marlene: We’re three for three on this one. Cameron doesn’t exactly start out as hero material. He’s having an affair with the Crown Princess, and he’s caught in a constant tug of war between his own career and his father’s unrealistic ambitions. But he is very much a man of honor, and sees his duty as paramount. The conflict he experiences when the Princess orders him to leave her unguarded so that he can accompany Sophie outside the Palace was a case in point, He has to obey, and he’s caught between a whole bunch of conflicting orders as well as feelings. He may not want to babysit Sophie, but he’s a damn good babysitter, and thinks quickly on his feet when he needs to.

Then Sophie goes through her awakening and prances down the ley line, and suddenly everything changes. Cam keeps trying to follow what he perceives as his duty, while it changes all around him. While I wish we’d seen more of his internal thoughts, I really liked the way he kept his promises.

2. Thoughts on the Heroine

E: I was predisposed to like Sophie or Sophia as she preferred to be called because of her inner rebellion against the life path she was supposed to follow as a Royal Witch, however I was a bit concerned she would let events happen to her instead of taking an active role. Thankfully, as the story progressed she became very vested in attempting to remain alive and started to see how much the world changed once she was no longer considered controllable. I liked how her impulsive and curious behavior changed things from the beginning and she never lost those traits. The mixture of innocence, self-control and willingness to accept responsibility for what she had done along with her more independent nature made her a multifaceted character. The other thing I really enjoyed was how she didn’t have all the answers, all the power, all the skills but remained vulnerable. She was cognizant enough not to let her loyalty blind her to the dangers and hidden snakes in the grass instead she was willing to take a chance, see who she could become, and how she could help her homeland without being killed as a threat.

Has: I really liked Sophie. She was a bit of a rebel at heart, despite being groomed to be the perfect lady in waiting waiting for her Witch powers to come alive so she manages a good match for the crown. Sophie was very likable, and curious about her magic. I also loved that she used her instincts and common sense when she was in a precarious position. I really enjoyed how she always questioned things in her world. Which also explained the complex worldbuilding, which was just fantastically laid out in the book. I never felt that there was any info dumping, and seeing it through Sophie’s eyes who was experiencing, what it was like to become a Royal Witch and then questioning the bindings after they failed because she and Cameron acted on a hot impulse in the beginning was great. Although I had a few questions, about some details in the world and how the different magics such as earth, water and blood magics worked. I thought that M.J Scott beautifully explained the world which was very vivid and well thought out.

I also felt Sophie had a great partnership with Cameron, even with their awkward beginning, it really became a true friendship as well a romance. And I really loved how the author tied this theme into their romance and into the world-building. It was a true highlight for me even though the romance was not prominent into the story.

Marlene: I liked Sophie too, and I loved seeing her world through her somewhat skeptical eyes. She wants to believe what she’s been told, but she can’t help herself from poking at the holes in all the stories and instructions. She wants to be a dutiful princess, but she needs to know what that duty entails. The amount of secrecy just makes her more curious, and the readers get to be curious right along with her. She’s not a typical princess, which makes her easy to identify with, while at the same time the things that make her different are organic to her situation and don’t seem anachronistic or artificial.

I love the way her awareness expands as she comes into her powers. It’s not just that she becomes more powerful, it’s that she uses her newfound power as a way of pushing beyond the boundaries and asking more questions. At the same time she becomes more politically savvy – not totally in the big picture yet, but more aware that things are not as they seem, and that they are also not as she has always been taught.

3. Favorite Scene

E: So I ended up leaving this question to the very last because I struggled picking out any single scene I could certainly point to as liking more than the others. I mean there was the immediate post ley-line encounter, the marriage night, illegal magic lessons, the journey to exile, and the totally mind-blowing introduction to exile. I think I am going to agree with Has and Marlene and say overall the ending. I am so completely hooked at this point.

Has: I have several scenes, the first one, is in the beginning when Sophie and Cameron inadvertently bonded with their magic without realising it. I loved the description and the atmosphere which really sets the tone of the world. But my favourite scene is the ending. The action is mostly intrigue and setting up the world, but there were a few twists and that final few pages has left me hankering for more.

Marlene: That ending was a kick in the teeth. I mean that in a good way. (Mostly) It is a cliffhanger of epic proportions, but at the same time it makes you rethink the entire story so far, and flips a lot of it on its head. Are the good guys really the good guys, or is that all just propaganda and spin? The ending blew all the possibilities wide open.

4. Dislike about book

E: This is more of a niggle and not a real complaint. I have read enough fantasy both with and without romance or romantic elements so I can predict some of the challenges or potential adversaries. I do with they were a bit less predictable but I enjoyed the twists and how they manifested. The predictability did make it easier to slip into the story’s rhythm and did not mar my enjoyment.

>strong>Has: I would have to say the ending. While I enjoyed the book, it does leave on a cliffhanger, and I felt that the story only kickstarted into gear when the big twist was unveiled. It really picked up in pace and tone. Although I totally loved the world-building and this was needed to be established and it was well explained and laid out to the reader. I also liked the intrigue which is one of my crack factor elements in a book like this, even though it may not be as pacey or action packed, I did feel M.J Scott built up a great tension for the characters in the midst of it.

Marlene: Two things. One, just as we find out that Sophie and Cam’s world is MUCH bigger than they imagined, the story is over. I want the next book now! The other thing that bothered me was Eloisa’s attitude. She starts out as a pretty decent person, and ends up auditioning for Queen Bitch. Her turnaround wasn’t explained nearly enough for me.

5. Any other misc. thoughts along with grade

E: When I finished reading this story, I really wanted the next one. It brought back what I love about fantasy, the magic, new worlds, strong characters, hidden agendas, and the fight of good against evil along with romance. I really liked the gradual unfolding of the characters and the expansion of the world. There also seemed to be distinct differences between “opposing” countries yet neither was portrayed as perfect and idealistic. This really became apparent as both Sophia and Cameron’s eyes were opened to what happens if you don’t fit and could be viewed as a potential threat or challenge to others goals.

I haven’t looked forward to a fantasy series with as much enthusiasm since I found Jeffe Kennedy’s Covenant of Thorns series a few years ago.

I give The Shattered Court an A.

Has: I really adore fantasy romance and The Shattered Court definitely ticked all my boxes. While it may not be as action packed, there is very solid world-building, which was filled with political intrigue and a quiet romance that had a fabulous undercurrent of heat. The main leads were engaging and likeable, and I really enjoyed their romance. I also feel that their next book, is going to kick up a notch in the stakes for action and danger surrounding them and I cant wait!

I give The Shattered Court a B+!

Marlene: I love a good fantasy romance, and The Shattered Court definitely pushed my happy buttons. The world is not just complex, but it turns out that it is more complex and in a completely different way than the heroine and the audience first believed. I enjoyed the way that Sophie and Cam work towards each other, starting from their heated but awfully convenient accident. I liked the way they both learned on the fly, as the situation around them became more perilous by the day. I think we’ve got an evil character coming along who is going to turn out to be very evil indeed. I can’t wait to see how they deal with the latest curve ball that their life has thrown them, and how much more they are going to mess up everyone else’s plans for them.

I also enjoyed the way that the Sophie’s and the audiences expectations are turned on their heads at the end. The idea that the world is not just bigger than she imagined, but completely different from what she was taught is fascinating and adds to the complexity of the worldbuilding. It reminded me a lot of Jeffe Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdom’s series, where the heroines discover that what they have been taught all their lives is not the only truth in the world, and possibly not any of the truth in the world. I love that series, and The Shattered Court is an awesome story in the same mold.

I give The Shattered Court an A-

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