Review: The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead

The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead (The Glittering Court #1)

Genre: Historical, YA, Romance

Publisher: Razorbill on April 5, 2016

Source: Library

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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.

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Before I get into my review, I need to get my major criticism out of the way: despite what the Razorbill marketing team would have you believe, THE GLITTERING COURT is not a fantasy novel. I would describe it as a historical fiction with some alternate history elements in the form of combined eras and changed names. The primary settings of Osfrid and Adoria are clearly England and colonial North America, respectively. That’s it. So while I could say that world building was an issue, in reality my expectations were just skewed to expect fantasy rather than historical fiction. You’ve been warned!

The lady formerly known as Elizabeth, Countess of Rothford is desperate to escape her privileged but stifling life – and an impending marriage to her vile cousin. The wily noblewoman hatches a scheme to leave her old life in the upper echelons of Osfridian society for a new adventure: she will pose as a common-born, uneducated girl to gain access to the Glittering Court, an organization that trains lower class girls to act like the gentry so they can be married off to successful men in the colony of Adoria across the sea.

There’s only one major hitch in the plan: Cedric, an employee of the Glittering Court, knows exactly who she really is. But the two forge a tenuous alliance, and Elizabeth becomes Adelaide Bailey, a beautiful and strangely accomplished lady’s maid. The scenes where Adelaide and her roommates Mira and Tamsin attend the Glittering Court’s finishing school to learn their trade (if you will) were some of my favourites in the whole book. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a boarding school setting!

But the three girls don’t remain at school for long and are soon shipped to Adoria, where Adelaide will learn that there are far greater challenges than unappealing cousins and competitive Court girls. For if someone were to discover who Adelaide used to be before she gets married, she will be shipped back to Osfrid and trapped in her old life. With her friends Mira and Tamsin otherwise occupied (more on that later), Adelaid finds herself growing closer to Cedric and confiding in him more and more. Soon, their friendship blossoms into something more…something forbidden because Cedric can’t afford the bride price of a Glittering Court girl.

In my opinion, the one thing that makes the GLITTERING COURT a unique read is also what undermined its success. See, this trilogy is an experimental storytelling format: Adelaide, Mira, and Tamsin will each tell the same basic story from their own perspectives, filling in the details of their own adventures in their stories. Pretty cool, right? Unfortunately, this means that we get very little real information about Mira and Tamsin’s past, present, and future activities in the GLITTERING COURT and they never feel like fully realized characters as a result. Suffice it to say that Richelle Mead’s clues about what Mira and Tamsin were up to were not subtle, but it was difficult to get invested in them even as just Adelaide’s friends when they felt so detached from the story. The foreshadowing necessary to establish their future story lines also contributed to some pacing issues and many parts of the book seemed to fly by too quickly and drag on, respectively.

THE GLITTERING COURT fits comfortably into the “book covers with girls in pretty dresses” genre; there’s not much in the way of originality, world building, or surprises. And yet despite all this it held a strange appeal, and I found myself enjoying the opportunity to “switch off” while reading. Recommended for fans of shallow historical fiction and YA beach reads, but fantasy readers might want to steer clear.

Have you read any bookish “marketing fails” recently? What are your thoughts on the pretty girls in dresses sub-genre of books? Let me know in the comments!

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  • There has been SO MUCH marketing fail in the YA fantasy/scifi department of late. The blurb always sound so freaking amazing, but if they are 100% different from the book I really have to wonder… what was the point? I have heard so many negative things about this book and the cover is not exactly inspiring so… PASS! Thanks for your thoughtful review <3

    • I’m so torn on it – I get that publishing is a business and marketing is meant to sell books, but the disatisfaction that results from blatantly poor marketing surely jeopardizes sales.

      Yeah, I think you’re fine giving this one a pass. 😉

  • The biggest marketing fail that comes to mind isn’t super recent but it was in YA and it was a blurb on Keeping The Castle by Patrice Kindl. It said something to the effect that “fans of I Capture the Castle will love this book”. The books literally have nothing in common except the word castle in the title. I could only imagine that the blurber hadn’t read either one or both of the books:).

    • Wow, that’s actually SO shameless! I wonder sometimes if publishers are required to include read alike titles in the blurb (“if you liked The Hunger Games…”) given how off-base some of them are.

  • I read my first Richelle Mead book last year, another YA title which didn’t work for me at all (for some of the same reasons you stated here…not much originality, world building, or originality, etc.) so I’m doubly wary of her YA now. If I’m to try another book by her, I’d probably try one of her adult series. As for the marketing…well, I’m kind of torn on this matter. I’ve read many adult novels which are as you describe, i.e. really alternate history/historicals set in worlds that are just thinly-veiled versions of our own with some names changed, and aside from that there are usually no other speculative elements. A few books by Guy Gavriel Kay come to mind, but still no one ever seems categorize that kind of stuff as anything but fantasy.

    • You know how there are some authors who should just stick to adult books? I feel like Mead is one of them, given that I’ve really enjoyed a couple of her adult series but I’ve struggled a lot with her YA.

      Bizarre…that said though, I’m not sure what I’d classify those books as either. Alternate history? Probably not magical realism, as that’s a pretty specific literary genre. Genre specifications are tough!

  • Ugh, there is nothing worse than expecting a book to be one thing from what you read about it and end up finding it’s something else altogether.

    I’ve got to say I’m not too eager to read this book because Richelle Mead is not an author who appeals to me but I am almost vaguely interested by the concept of a trilogy where each book gives different perspectives of the same event and fills out each character’s individual story. The thing is, though, that surely that’s only going to work if the books get released very close together otherwise people won’t be interested to read.

    I get the appeal of a more shallow read, it’s the reason I will indulge in vast amounts of romance and contemporary reads, the story may be predictable but it’s also fun and easy to read.

    • It’s so frustrating! I wouldn’t have minded the lack of fantasy elements if I hadn’t expected to find them. Ugh!

      I think you’re right about the format, it’s very cool but maybe not the most practical way of telling a story. Maybe if the three stories were being released as serials the gaps in the story would be less bothersome.

      Love a good shallow read, but I think I’ll stick to contemporary romances for those. Shalvis, anyone?

      • That’s true. I think that’s the worst think we do to ourselves as readers, we develop our own expectations from books based on the little we know about it and it can lead to the most disappointment when reading.

        And Shalvis may be the way to go, especially as she has a new book out.

  • Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    Oh, interesting. I thought this was fantasy.

  • Lynn Williams

    This wasn’t on my radar tbh and I think I’ll probably leave it alone. Doesn’t really sound like my cup of tea.
    Lynn 😀

    • Fair enough! I’m not sure if I’ll even be continuing on with the rest of the trilogy, to be completely honest. Shallow reads can be fun, but I think I’ll stick to romance novels for those plot lines from here on out!

  • Ah, I know what you mean about the strange appeal of Mead’s novels. They’re kind of readable, you don’t have to think a lot and they work as a kind of palate cleanser between other, more difficult books.

    That said, I can’t say I’ll ever read this one – I read her VA series + the Bloodlines series – and I translated half of the latter, so I have had enough of her books for a lifetime, I think. 😀 And this sounds eerily close to the Selection series, which is supposed to be “dystopian” but it’s just BAD. I still haven’t finished that one…

    • Yes, exactly! Or at least that’s how I feel about her YA novels. I think Mead is actually much better at writing adult works, and her on-going adult fantasy series is supposed to be incredible.

      HA! I guess translating a book means that you’ve had to read and recognize a lot of Mead’s unique stylistic tics, so I can definitely understand why you’re not that interested in reading another one. I’ve never read The Selection series and never will. I love a cheesy, OTT romance series as much as the next person, but there are too many genuinely good ones out there to waste time on one that’s so often described as horrid.