Up to the Throne (Book Review)
By T.A. Frost
4.5/5 Stars - Fantasy (Steampunk/Political/some magic)
It’s been a long time since I can say that I <i>absolutely loved</i> a book. But this was one of them! I really enjoy the author’s Space Captain Smith books (I have not finished the series because I’m savouring it). As much as I delight in those, they are very different from this novel. <i>Up to the Throne</i> is a serious, fantasy revenge story with a 14th century/Italian-Renaissance feel. While it takes place in a setting where magic and mythological creatures exist, the story keeps those aspects mainly to the periphery. It’s a very fun and detailed world he’s created that has hints of real history (the Inquisition, monasteries, political manoeuvring, etc). I loved the steampunk aspects; sometimes it felt like fantasy fused with an alternate reality where da Vinci’s engineering plans came to fruition.
I was also invested in the characters. Giulia, the main character, is tough, resourceful, and driven, who is rather blinded by her devotion to her mission – to kill the man who sliced up her face and tried to murder her – which prevents her from allowing herself to indulge in a love life or even form deep friendships. I really liked her, and Frost is great at giving her a taste of normalcy and then having her reject it out of principle to keep to her revenge plans – it was frustrating to see her make those choices but elicited sympathy. I also found the supporting characters, Marcellus especially, varied and interesting.
There were a couple of minor things I didn’t find as compelling as the setting and main character. One was the antagonists. While the motives of the councillors made sense, they were a little bland in terms of personality and Severra and the other councillor felt like the same person. The other bad guys made up for it though (Nuntio and some minor villains). The second aspect was around the “Fae” characters – I didn’t find they or their situation were fully described. I understood why a religious faction would target them as scapegoats, and that the city was divided in terms of demographics, but I wasn’t entirely drawn into their situation as it took a backburner to Guilia’s story and seemed to only have relevance at the end.
I did love how Giulia is fueled by revenge but not necessarily rage. She often wards off what she calls “Melancholia”, which I took to be PTSD, which was a wonderful inclusion. Usually, in revenge stories (especially fantasy ones), it’s all about hatred, but in this story, it often felt like Guilia was going after Severra because she felt it would cure her of her mental illness. This made sense, given the time period’s lack of psychology, and broadened her motivations.
I’m giving this a 4.5/5 in truth, but he can have the extra half star, as it was a book that kept me up way past my bedtime, the action sequences are fun, the story often goes in directions you don’t expect, it’s violent but not disgustingly-so, and it is very easy to read but not simplistic. I loved the world he created and will read the next one.