The Glittering Court follows Elizabeth Witmore, am Osfridian countess who poses as her lady’s maid to escape an arranged marriage. Assuming her new identity as Adelaide Bailey, she runs away to the new world, Adoria, a world that represents freedom and adventure to her, and her ticket to Adoria is in joining the Glittering Court. The Glittering Court is a business designed to take poor working girls from Osfrid and train them up into a “new nobility” to marry richly in the Adorian colonies, which are overpopulated with men. Adelaide joins this crew hoping to blend in, not realizing that pretending a lack of noble knowledge is much harder than she thinks. She can’t hide from everyone, however – Cedric Thorne, the son of the Glittering Court’s proprietor, knows her secret, and when she discovers he’s hiding a dangerous secret of his own, the two of them hatch a plan to help each other out. But a simmering and grossly forbidden attraction between the two of them threatens to overwhelm them, one that not only endangers their secrets and their standing in this delicate society but possibly even their very lives as they fight for happiness and freedom in the new world of Adoria.
This book, though fantasy, reads almost entirely like historical fiction (and you’ll hear no complaints from me about it). It actually reminded me a lot of Victoria Holt’s novels, which I love, though I unfortunately don’t think Mead quite matches up to Holt in her storytelling. Osfridian society is very much like Elizabethan England, complete with religious persecution in tow. It is the heretical Alanzians who face persecution in this fantasy world, however, and they are being gradually rooted out and executed or else fighting to escape to the possibility of religious tolerance in the new world. Even in the new world, the native people are being rooted out by the more powerful colonists who want their land - sound familiar? The book shows little of life in Osfrid before Adelaide takes off to join the Glittering Court, but since much of the courtly life portrayed seems to match Elizabethan fiction, there’s not much to miss. Life in the manor where the Glittering Court girls are trained is much more interesting.
I enjoyed getting to know the girls around Adelaide and watching her try to blend in with her working class peers while also learning a bit about what being working class really means. Adelaide ia an engaging if not always entirely believable character, though her thoughts and actions are never so unbelievable that they completely took me out of the story. She is definitely an admirable and strong character who is willing to fight and endure hardship for what she wants. Her two friends, Tamsin, a former washerwoman with high ambitions, and Mira, a quiet Sirminican refugee who faces racism everywhere she turns, are both wonderfully crafted and fully formed characters. The next two books in the trilogy will feature each of them as a protagonist, and I can’t wait to read their sides of the story. The three girls’ adventures together in the Glittering Court are often fun and have an almost Princess Diaries feel to them sometimes, though there is always that edge of competition between the members of the Court. And throughout all that fun is Cedric Thorne, a wonderful romantic hero who manages, in my opinion, to defy the many clichés I absolutely expected his character to fall into and became a very compelling character himself whom I actually really liked. Also, many readers will be pleased to hear: there is NO love triangle in this book! I was quite relieved, myself!
I can’t say much about the second half of the book without spoiling quite a lot, but I will say that while a few middle portions of the book dragged on a bit for me, the last third of the book made up for the previous slow pace. Once Adelaide and the Glittering Court reach Adoria, it’s not long before the story really starts to pick up and reach thrilling complications. There is quite a bit of foreshadowing, and I spent much of the book with my stomach in knots because I could just tell that every time it looked like things were looking up for Adelaide, they were soon going to go horribly wrong instead. The tone managed to be foreboding without being dreary, and I was constantly on edge knowing that more misfortune must soon befall our heroine. Mead did an excellent job, particularly in the last third of the book, of keeping the pacing and foreshadowing exactly right so that the story didn’t feel rushed but also never got boring. The last thing I would say about this book is that it was predictable.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book and certainly can’t wait to read its two companions. I thought the characters were well-developed, the plot was – for the most part – engaging, and the story as a whole came together much better than I initially expected it to. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the book as a fantasy – it definitely fits more into the historical fiction category, in my opinion, even if the names and some of the customs technically fall into the category of fantasy. The story could with a fair amount of ease have just used England and the American colonies as a setting instead of a fantasy one, though the fantasy allowed Mead to ignore any questions of historical accuracy and do what she wanted with the story, which I think was an excellent decision. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys Victoria Holt’s books or other historical romantic suspense novels.
The Glittering Court is available on April 5th!
A #1 NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER
The Selection meets Reign in this dazzling trilogy of interwoven novels about three girls on a quest for freedom and true love from #1 internationally bestselling author Richelle Mead.