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. But to do that, she must join the Glittering Court.
Both a school and a business venture, the Glittering Court is designed to transform impoverished girls into upper-class ladies who appear destined for powerful and wealthy marriages in the New World. Adelaide naturally excels in her training, and even makes a few friends: the fiery former laundress Tamsin and the beautiful Sirminican refugee Mira. She manages to keep her true identity hidden from all but one: the intriguing Cedric Thorn, son of the wealthy proprietor of the Glittering Court.
When Adelaide discovers that Cedric is hiding a dangerous secret of his own, together they hatch a scheme to make the best of Adelaide’s deception. Complications soon arise—first as they cross the treacherous seas from Osfrid to Adoria, and then when Adelaide catches the attention of a powerful governor.
But no complication will prove quite as daunting as the potent attraction simmering between Adelaide and Cedric. An attraction that, if acted on, would scandalize the Glittering Court and make them both outcasts in wild, vastly uncharted lands…
Given the book description and the cover, I expected I was in for a simple story with pretty girls in pretty dresses. There was true to a certain extent, but the book also went a lot of places that I wasn’t expecting, leaving me with very mixed feelings.
The first part of the book was my favorite because it was exactly what I thought I was getting myself into: a noble girl runs away to a finishing school to escape an arranged marriage. That said, it all happened very quickly. We flash through nearly a year’s worth of time in the first 150 pages which was too quick a pace given everything that was supposed to have happened. Some reviewers complained about how much description went into the dresses the girls wore and the various tasks they learned. Personally, I like descriptions of pretty dresses so I enjoyed this section.
Why. Why have young adult books not figured out how to write romance? From the beginning it was clear that Adelaide and Cedric would end up together so the will they won’t they attitude of the book felt very forced, and the sudden transition from “wow we kissed twice and it was awesome” to “we are so in love I would die for you and we should get married” happened at light speed. As in happened almost over the course of a scene. Then everything became about the romance, and Cedric was not interesting enough that he could stand suddenly being thrust into the spotlight. Frankly it would have been much more interesting if Adelaide and Cedric had decided to fulfill their contracts, because it would have been unexpected. (I also have a hard time believing that Adelaide could adapt so quickly to a life of extreme hardship and physical labor after growing up in a life of luxury.)
I was intrigued by the setting at first because it hinted at being quasi-historical with Earth parallels, but yet not Earth. Unfortunately, Mead did not change enough. It was soon clear that each country in her book had a direct corresponding real world country, and that she hadn’t made enough changes to warrant using fake countries. Either making the settings more unique from their inspirations or embracing a real historical setting would have strengthened the book immensely. That and the back of the book claimed it was “Elizabethan meets western frontier”, which bothered the historian in me. Western frontier is very accurate, but nothing about the setting draws parallels to Elizabethan times any more than any time period in the following two centuries (and frankly what we got felt like it was part of a later period). The part set in Adoria is colonial era and the part in Osfrid is such a mix of time periods that it’s just fictional.
A sudden twist at the very end of the book made the stakes much higher with the villain than had been explored previously. Which was frustrating because political intrigue would have been a much more interesting than a couple hundred pages of Adelaide sighing over Cedric. Adelaide’s friends also both had interesting mysteries going on which were never explored. The internet has informed me that this is because the author is writing companion novels about the two friends. I am bitter because it left too many loose ends (nowhere was it specified that this was the first book in a series. It should be mandatory for books to mention this on the cover or in the description #rant), and because her two friends had subplots that sounded far more interesting than Adelaide’s. Mira had escaped a civil war in her country and was overcoming intense racial prejudices (and then maybe became a masked vigilante pirate?? It was not confirmed because sequel bait but I wanted Mira to be our protagonist holy cow). Adelaide’s actions toward Mira were also fairly racist for someone who considers Mira to be one of her best friends.
While this has been a summarily negative review, the book was entertaining enough for me to get through 400ish pages in an evening. But it became more and more problematic as I reflected on it and read reviews. I don’t know how to end this review other than saying this book is a mixed bag with some good and some bad, but ultimately isn’t particularly satisfying.
Stay magical readers!