The Councillor, by E.J. Beaton, is high fantasy, with a Machiavellian twist, whose author’s first book was poetry. It adds to the flavor and fits the pageantry of this political fantasy. The world building is interesting—a lot is accepted as normal, such as men and women both being soldiers, business leaders, politicians, artisans. And Lysande, herself, the Palace Scholar, is a woman in service to the Queen of Elier, who is called the Steel Queen. The Queen herself picked Lysande out of an orphanage to become the Palace Scholar. And raised and befriended her from that point on. She also receives an envelope, making her the Councillor, on the death of the queen, to pick the next heir to the throne. A duty that leaves her very uneasy.
Not only are men and women equals, it even seems, in an understated way, women are expected to be the leaders. Lysande herself, as well as the queen, are taller than the commander of the castle force. The majority of the rulers of the nation had been queens, no few of them warriors. Primogeniture doesn’t seem to be the usual way of naming a successor. Sexuality is more fluid, attraction and romance is not confined to heterosexual conventions. And, all of this is in the background.
I very much enjoyed this fictional debut. So much of the world building is just part of the story. Lysande was in an orphanage as well as many other children, due to a long war freeing the populace from the threat of the “White Queen”, a magically endowed contender for the throne. Magic users are known as elementals, and are magically in power of an element, such as earth, fire, water. At one time in the distant past, the Elementals were the rulers of the country, until they were cast down. Leaving the populace very anti-magic, to the point of executing anyone suspected of being an Elemental. A point of the law Lysande has often debated with the queen.
Lysande is an interesting, flawed character, herself. She never seems to think it unusual that the queen should take so much interest in her although as the Royal Scholar, she is still a commoner. The nobility, here called silver bloods, certainly never let her forget her humble beginnings. She even keeps her lover, a friend from the orphanage, a secret, from everyone in the castle. Partially in compensation for her perceived shortcomings, she takes a magical drug, made of the scales of a chimera, an extinct magical beast. However, all her study of history of the reigns, wars, and kingdoms of the realm serve her well in dealing with the four city rulers who come to be considered for the throne.
The story is not a simple sword & sorcery, but a political, renaissance type tale, mostly told from a complex character’s viewpoint about the difficulty in deciding who should reign over the realm. There is even a sequel that I hope follows up on some of the dangling threads left at the end, and I am definitely looking forward to it.
The Councillor, by E. J. Beaton, DAW Books, Inc., 2021, ISBN978-0-7564-1699-7