Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. The Harp of Kings debuted September 3rd.
I have a lot of respect for Juliet Marillier for writing the Sevenwaters trilogy. It’s been years since I read the first Sevenwaters book, but I remember it being absolutely fantastic. I also read Wildwood Dancing last year, which I loved, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel.
So knowing that Marillier is an industry heavyweight and a fantastic writer, I couldn’t request an ARC of The Harp of Kings fast enough. This is the start of a new series, with three books already listed on Goodreads, and the premise seemed great: a shadowy fantasy organization that gets contracted for missions (basically a fantasy CIA), whose latest quest is to recover a stolen harp that is crucial to a coronation ceremony. The three young main characters on the mission are vying to be fully inducted into the organization; this mission will be their proving ground. Cool, right?
So with all this said, you can’t imagine how disappointed I was to read this book and have a difficult time connecting with it. Many of the characters, and especially the dialogue, felt wooden, like it was missing some spark of life. Much of the action also felt too unrealistic for my taste. To give an example, the female MC has an encounter with the detestable heir-to-throne, where he tries to rape her and she shoves him, causing him to fall and hit his head hard. Through the eyes of characters in a medieval setting, this is understandably seen as her attacking the heir. The fall-out from the incident, however, was less than serious; after a bit of politicking, all she needs to do is give him a formal apology and the incident is more or less in the past. This punishment-not-punishment is meted out by the heir’s advisors; despite the fact that he is a man about to take the throne, he’s essentially not able to follow through on his now hatred for the female MC. The whole thing just felt extremely unrealistic to me; I have a very tough time believing that there weren’t more serious consequences for the female MC. (Please understand that I’m not taking the side of the heir, but just questioning the logic of the narrative choices.)
I also had a very tough time with the ending. Spoiler incoming in:
There is a literal hand-of-God moment where the question about who should be the true king is decided by a celestial presence on high shining a light on the one they favor. It was a textbook definition of a deus ex machina.
This then followed by a denouement that featured more wooden dialogue, with all the flair of an HR exit interview.
“What part of this mission gave you the most satisfaction?” This surprising question comes from Illann.
Dau catches my eye and we both grin. Neither of us is going to mention that escapade at the wall. “To be honest,” he says, “I spent most of our stay at Breifne feeling anything but satisfaction. I was pleased when Liobhan got Brocc out of that place. And I was pleased when the harp ended up in the right hands.”
“And you, Liobhan?”
“Working as a team. We got better at that. We learned as we went along. Only… without Brocc we’re not so much of a team. Sorry.”
Do you see what I mean? This is a book that has a great, interesting premise, but fell short in the execution. If you are a diehard Marillier fan then by all means check it out (I’m pretty sure it has some Easter eggs in there for her fans), but sadly I won’t be continuing with this series unless I hear very different things about the second book.