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REVIEW: Traitors of the Black Crown by Cate Pearce

Traitors Of The Black Crown - Cate Pearce

Genre: Fantasy

LGBTQ+ Category: Lesbian

Reviewer: H.L.

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About The Book

Three women will betray the black crown. A Knight. A Duchess. A Queen.

Raena Schinen narrowly escaped when the Queen’s guard murdered her entire family. If Raena’s survival is exposed, she’ll be next. For fifteen years Raena has hidden as a male Knight, “Sir Rowan”, consumed by her vengeful desire to assassinate the Queen.

The moment Raena is close enough to exact her revenge, she is unexpectedly exiled to a foreign land. There she serves the common-born Duchess Aven Colby, whose suspicious kinship with the Queen further threatens Raena’s delicate secrets.

Just as they become united in a common goal to curb a looming invasion, unexpected heat and romance blossoms between “Sir Rowan” and Aven. The peril demands they set out on a journey to form clandestine political alliances, risking the Queen’s wrath, and drawing Raena and Aven closer together.

But no one in the kingdom could have imagined the sinister foe rising from below the surface. In order to save themselves and those they love, Raena, Aven, and the Queen must recognize who are the oppressors and who will unite against the Black Crown.

The Review

Raena Schinen has spent the past fifteen years after the massacre of her family at the hands of the Queen’s soldiers in disguise as Sir Rowan, with only one goal in mind: to take revenge and kill the Queen. She has grown to become an exceptional knight and has, incredibly, managed to keep her identity as both Raena and a woman a secret in this society that drips with sexism. But before she can enact her plan, her Sir Rowan persona is abruptly exiled and sent into the service of Duchess Aven Colby, whose strange relationship with the Queen throws Raena into a tight spot, especially when they begin to fall for each other.

I’ll confess straight up that I was drawn to this book for the blurb and its positively gorgeous cover. Traitors of the Black Crown has a fantastic premise, one that was unfortunately a little let down by the execution and the expectations raised by the summary. This isn’t an action-packed adventure with a burning, semi-forbidden romance and a driving revenge plot – it is a slow-paced political intrigue that doesn’t really kick off until about 40% of the way through.

The first quarter of the book was incredibly slow, with little plot and too many side characters introduced who are ultimately not relevant or just completely forgettable. The world-building is heavy and handled via bland dialogue, and still left me confused as to what was what and who was who. My biggest issue with the first part of the book is that despite the high plot stakes, there was no tension to the narrative or to the characters’ dialogue, and even less to the romance. It felt like they were all about to sit down for a cup of tea instead of planning a rebellion.

Despite Raena and Aven being two of the three main characters, I never got a great sense of personality from either of them and struggled to connect with them both. Raena is able to switch between her “Sir Rowan” persona and her female identity with ease, which was a fascinating element of the book, but despite her initial goal to take revenge against the Queen, she seemed to lack drive and purpose. Aven is very nice, very kind, and very sweet, and always dignified, but not much else. Their romance was rushed, with them pretty much instantly falling in love, and again, not much else – though once they did fall in love, the romance was quite sweet and tender.

Ultimately, it was Queen Zarana with whom I connected with the most. She was not likeable at all, and yet, I found myself compelled by her narrative and wanting to know more about why she has done the terrible things over her reign. Zarana was the absolute highlight of the book and the reason I powered through.

Traitors of the Black Crown isn’t great, but it isn’t bad either – it’s perfectly fine. It’s just slow and requires an adjustment of expectations. There is a plot, but it’s not the one you’d expect going into the book, and you won’t know what it is until towards the end. There is a lesbian romance, but it’s not the slow-burn mistaken identity/gender you’d expect of the premise of a woman disguised as a Knight falling in love with the Duchess she is sworn to protect. The women in the novel are all leaders in their own right, but the world is rife with sexism and misogyny that even the characters seem to reinforce.

The book ends on one hell of a cliffhanger – one that I do wish to get a resolution to. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the sequel.

The Reviewer

H. L. is a Jewish Australian writer of LGBT+ fiction. She holds a Master of Arts in International Relations (2015) and a Bachelor of Media in Communications and Journalism (2012), both from the University of New South Wales.

She has been writing stories since she was old enough to hold a pen. She is the author of M/M fantasy romance novels Heart Of Dust and Soul Of Ash, Books 1 & 2 of the Death’s Embrace series.

She has had two speculative short stories published: “The Collector” in the 2014 Future Times Award Collection A Tick Tock Heart, and “Entente” in the 2020 Twisted Stories Award Collection Just Alice. 


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