I received an advanced reader’s copy of Rule several weeks (or months?) ago from Julianne Daly, a lovely book blogger and freelancer I follow on Twitter who does book giveaways. I finally managed to get to Rule after several bookish detours, and, as promised, I am giving it my honest review.
Rule, by Ellen Goodlett, is the story of three teenaged girls living in different parts of the kingdom of Kolonya, each trying desperately to get on with their lives despite hiding treasonous secrets. There’s Zofi, born to the Travelers, a despised group of nomadic people; Akeylah, an Easterner living with an abusive father; and Florencia, a lady’s maid in the Kolonyan court.
These girls, raised worlds away from each other, are each forced to answer the summons of King Andros, who reveals to them that he is dying. Not only that, but it turns out that Zofi, Akeylah, and Florencia are his last living heirs, what with the murder of the crown prince a year ago. Little does King Andros know that his newly acknowledged daughters each guard dangerous secrets—secrets that put their lives in jeopardy when a stranger at the court threatens to blackmail them if they don’t refuse the throne.
I went into this book feeling a little bit dubious, I’ll admit. Don’t get me wrong, the cover is gorgeous, and I’m always willing to give a new book a chance. It’s just that YA seems to be flooded with books featuring girls and monarchies, right now, so I really hoped that this book would be something special.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the beginning. Goodlett does a great job of hinting at the girls’ treacherous secrets without completely giving them away all at once. She makes it very clear that these girls have committed terrible, even treasonous acts, but she draws out the details so that each reveal has impact.
I also appreciated the care that Goodlett puts into making each sister feel distinct and driven by her own unique desires, and I especially liked that they all come from such different backgrounds, offering a more complex view of the world.
Zofi is impulsive, fierce, and corrosive—she wants nothing to do with a monarchy that does nothing to stop the people from hurting and killing her people with impunity. That is, until she realizes that as queen, she would have the power to change that.
Akeylah, soft-spoken and hesitant, doubts her ability to take the throne, until she realizes that living under the terror of an abusive father has given her the armor she needs to adapt and survive—qualities that are surprisingly helpful as she attends lessons with her sisters on how to run the country.
And, of course Florencia, with her sharp tongue, quick wit, and extensive knowledge of the court, wants the throne more than anything, but she can’t help but resent being raised to be a servant in the same castle her father ruled in.
I liked these girls. The problem is, I didn’t feel compelled to love them. They feel a little bit two-dimensional, like they lack just a little something that would make them really come alive for me. I didn’t really fall for any of the characters in this book. I think part of the problem was that I didn't feel like Zofi, Florencia, or Akeylah had very strong character arcs. Once they finally stopped trying to compete with one another and realized they were stronger together, things did start to go in their direction, but I had trouble rooting for them because I feel like Goodlett didn't quite sell me on their flaws in the first place.
I was intrigued by the world, by the magic, which is governed by the body and the use of blood, and I was interested enough to keep reading, but…
Well, after a certain point, things felt a little too predictable. I predicted one of the big twists probably 100 pages before the main characters did. I was glad that my prediction didn’t end up being entirely correct, but I still found myself a little bit frustrated with the characters when they dance around that hypothesis for so long. And, yeah, this book is written for teens, and I’m a 24-year-old bookworm who is well-versed in the tropes of YA fantasy, so I’m not saying it’s a deal-breaker or that someone else won’t be totally delighted and surprised by the plot twists.
I don’t know, for me, the story feels a little bit formulaic, and I didn’t find the romance subplots very engaging either. Sexuality is super fluid in this world Goodlett has created, and major props to her for it. It’s super refreshing to read a YA fantasy where queerness goes unquestioned. I just wish I’d found the romance a little more compelling.
All that being said, it was a perfectly enjoyable read, even though I'd hoped for more. If you like subterfuge, blackmail, court intrigue, positive LGBT representation, and stories about young ladies showing up to grab power without apology, you’ll probably enjoy this book.
Rule is available at Barnes and Noble for $17.99 in hardcover.
Writer, reviewer, bookseller, book nerd extraordinaire. Fiction reader at Waxwing Magazine.