Batgirl in fantasyland
Reviewed in the United States on 21 April 2019
I think I'm on board with this series, although I have some qualms. What I like most about it is that it marries the superhero trope with the high fantasy genre. It's about Brynna, an 18-year-old girl whose day job is sweeping blood at the butcher shop. Only, her day job is her moonlighting gig. Brynna's true occupation has her donning a cape and hood and prowling the streets and rooftops of the city at night as the dread crimefighter, the Veil.
She's been doing this for three years now, and she's foiled enough dirty deeds that she's got them crooks worriedly looking over their shoulders. And who knows? Given enough time, maybe the Veil could've eradicated crime from her city.
But the king died three weeks ago, and soon followed improbably by the demise of the king's son. Abruptly, the kingdom of Forcadel is thrown into chaos. With the realm in dire, immediate need of a successor, Brynna finds herself nabbed by the royal guard.
How come? It's no spoiler to alert you that the Veil is also the Princess Brynna-Larissa Rhodes Lonsdale, a runaway royal now forced to do her duty. She's told her coronation as Queen of Forcadel is in three months, time enough for her to get (re)educated on proper protocol and behavior and history and politics and such. See our girl chafe under such dull restrictions. She'd rather go lurking in the night and try to get the goods on that elusive kingpin of crime, Lord Beswick, who has his fingers in all the pies.
Maybe some spoilers.
The City of Veils is first in S. Usher Evans' Princess Vigilante series, and I had high hopes for it going in. And there are smatterings of the good stuff throughout the book. I relished the scenes of a disguised Brynna patrolling the streets, shaking down her informants, beating up on the occasional ne'er-do-wells. Thing is, the Veil, herself an urban legend, can't quite muster up the sheer badassery of Batman or the Shadow and the whimpering fright they put into the baddies. And, yet, there's the Veil does enough to not forfeit her vigilante card. I appreciate how calculated she is, that she keeps replenished her stash of weapons and gadgets, that she maintains a string of underworld contacts, that she keeps a finger on the pulse of the city. As she mentions: "This may come as a surprise to you, but as good as I am at hand-to-hand, I can't exactly fight off a group of people. So I employ little cheats. Use the element of surprise. Anything I can do to keep myself one step ahead of them and still save the day." Very Batman-y.
But, then, the disappointing bits. And it's to do with her loss of agency, courtesy of Captain Felix Llobrega, who heads up the royal guard. He's her minder, the one who ensures that she doesn't sneak out or run away again. It aggravates me that he manages to always stay one step ahead of Brynna. It diminishes her as a capable young woman, reduces her to a petty, frustrated brat who just can't get a win against the captain. And, then, Brynna compounds things by making poor choices later on and by behaving rashly, thus casting doubt to the earlier statement about how calculated she is.
3 - okay, 3.5 - out of 5 stars. I did like the worldbuilding. The book alerts us to the intricate politics that sustain the fragile peace among four bickering countries, and how Brynna's naiveté now threatens to screw the pooch. And while Felix comes off righteous and intolerably smug, I enjoy others in Brynna's tiny inner circle, like her personal handmaiden, who has opinions, and her sister-in-law, who's charged with Brynna's dreary royal education.
It's not as action-packed as I'd hoped, and I resent that it ends on a cliffhanger. Too, the Veil doesn't get enough opportunity to strut her vigilante stuff. And Brynna is kept too cowed and declawed in the castle, making me suspect she's not as clever or as accomplished as she thinks she is. I didn't care for the bits of romance that cropped up, either, probably because Felix isn't very interesting. Whoever compared this book to Sarah J. Maas' Throne of Glass series did this book no favors. There are parallels, sure. But Celaena Sardothien, a supremely skilled assassin who snags marvelous character work from her author, makes Brynna look bush league. The Princess Vigilante series has got ways to go before matching the bravura storytelling and grand scale achieved by The Throne of Glass saga. But S. Usher Evans has got mad skills. I like how she writes and how natural her flow is. Here's a bit of her prose that encapsulates what Brynna is like as a person.
"For the first time, I thought I actually looked like a princess, what with the crown and the cream-colored dress, and the attendants staring lovingly. And when no one was looking, I slipped one of my knives into my dress and felt a little like myself, too."
S. Usher Evans has got me convinced to keep an eye out for the sequel and to check out her other books. Her Lexie Carrigan stuff seems promising.
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