Book Review: The Councillor by E. J. Beaton

Book Review: The Councillor by E. J. Beaton

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ARC provided by the publisher—DAW Books—in exchange for an honest review.

Cover designed by: Adam Auerbach.

The Councillor by E.J. Beaton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Series: The Councillor (Book #1)

Genre: Fantasy, High fantasy, Mystery

Pages: 448 pages (US Kindle edition)

Published: 2nd March 2021 by DAW Books

The Councillor is a Machiavellian fantasy novel I didn’t know I wanted.

I think this book deserves more buzz; other than a few glimpses on social media, the only occurrences where I heard about The Councillor was from Nils and Elliot Brooks. The Councillor is a Machiavellian fantasy novel and debut by E.J. Beaton. The death of the Iron Queen Sarelin Brey has fractured the realm of Elira, and now the city-rulers are vying for the throne. The story follows Lysande Prior, a scholar chosen as the new Councillor, and her quest to choose the next ruler for the kingdom. In the meantime, she also has to seek who murdered the queen. This, as you can probably guess, is a slow-paced novel filled with politics, scheming, conspiracy, and assassinations, and they’re handled wonderfully. Do not start reading this book expecting there will be a lot of battle scenes. Except for a tournament—that takes up a small section within the entire novel—and the climax sequences, battle scenes aren’t a priority, and that’s completely okay. I will, however, add that the battle scenes were incredible, and I hope the sequel will feature more action sequences because they were so good.

“Strength without swords.”
“How does one conquer without a sword? Without a weapon?”
“The real leader conquers with her mind. Princess Santieri’s phrase, second century, was it not?”

For me, there are two key points that made me enjoy reading this novel; the first one being Lysande herself. Lysande, as the main character, is a great character that surprised me several times. The narrative in The Councillor is told exclusively through Lysande’s perspective, and she’s quite a complex character; she’s mostly composed on the outside, fiery on the inside. Plus, Lysande is really not your typical hero. As she tries her best in her own way to live up to the examples and expectations established by Sarelin Brey, Lysande also has her own internal conflicts and addictions—drugs, sexual fetish—to control. I also enjoyed reading the relationship development between her and Derset, Litany, and Luca Fontaine. And despite Lysande being a morally grey character, some parts of her—like her intoxicating passion for books and stories—were so charming.

“It comforted her to smell the leather and to feel the presence of so many books around her. She could never be alone in a realm of shelves, where characters from ancient stories might speak to her in smooth metaphors and pleasantly gnarled phrases; places she had never seen might spring into life, painted in full range of hues that her imagination supplied, offering a pale green forest, a mountain daubed with gray limestone, or an ocean splintered by the dying sun.”

The second main positive factor of the book, and definitely my favorite one, would have to be Beaton’s prose; it is beautiful and rich with quality, and it has the power to manipulate the readers. There’s something about Beaton’s prose that felt so seductive to me; the letters inked into this novel reminded me of Robin Hobb’s level of prose. Beaton has previously published a poetry collection and has been shortlisted for the ACU Prize for Poetry and the Ada Cambridge Poetry Prize. Not only that, but Beaton’s Ph.D. thesis also included analysis of Machiavellian politics in Shakespearean drama and fantasy literature, and all of these permeated into her storytelling and poetic writing style.

“Books are rewarding companions, Your Excellency,” she said. “A good poem can speak to your soul in ways that people rarely do, and every relationship with a book is a mutual one. Stories are never forced to accept your affection.”

Honestly, though, the only reason The Councillor didn’t receive a higher rating from me was because of its pacing. The book consists of 15 chapters, and they’re all long chapters; almost every chapter took me around 30-60 minutes to read. This and the relatively slower-paced narrative made the pacing of several scenes in the middle sections of the book felt sluggish for me to read. However, this is overall a minor criticism; the positives aspects of the novel totally outweigh this.

“Confidence before the nobility. Humility before the people. Books had a strange way of making themselves useful in your life, words sprouting up when you least expected them.”

The Councillor is a smartly-crafted political debut imbued with elemental magic, monsters, chimera, intense tournament, and intrigues. As I’ve mentioned earlier, The Councillor is a slow-burn novel, and although it indeed took me a bit longer to read than my usual reading pace, I think the prose was utterly worth savoring. If I’m not mistaken, this is a duology, and I’m curious to find out how the series will end, and don’t worry, there’s no cliffhanger here.

Official release date: 2nd March 2021

You can pre-order the book from: Amazon US | Book Depository (Free shipping) | Bookshop (Support Local Bookstores!)

The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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