I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
What it's about: Chivalry's Children is a story of four young noblewomen in the court of a medieval realm called Laudeland. The country is an island nation in the center of the North Sea, between the United Kingdom and Denmark. While the book is set almost entirely in this fictional realm, there are a number of connections to “our” world, mainly in the form of characters hailing from Armenia. Despite the lack of magic or other fantastical elements, I'd still classify the book as “fantasy” due to the alternate-reality setting and the presence of some advanced technology in Laudeland. The plot revolves around the young women and their families and friends as they fight to save their kingdom from an enemy bent on destroying their lives.
What I enjoyed: The characters were all distinctive and well-developed. Johnson does a great job handling a large cast without anyone getting lost in the shuffle. Multiple subplots and character arcs weave together to form a cohesive whole. The protagonists were interesting and likable, their banter was humorous, and I felt emotionally invested in what was happening to them.
I also appreciated Johnson's attention to historical details and her vivid imagining of her storyworld. The touches of more “modern” technology in the form of Caspian's inventions were particularly fun. I normally don't care for fantasy that doesn't involve magical themes, but there was enough suspense and enjoyable character interactions to keep me interested despite that.
What I wasn't so fond of: It takes a little too long for things to heat up in this book. I'm not one of those people who wants an explosion in every chapter, but when I begin reading a book, I expect something to go wrong and mess up the characters' lives early on so that I know what the story will be about. The inciting incident of Chivalry's Children doesn't come until roughly halfway through the novel. That is not to say that the preceding chapters are boring, however. The characters are engaging enough to hold the reader's interest despite the lack of a definite conflict in the first part of the book. And once the conflict does begin, it's gripping and keeps you reading eagerly until the final chapter. So the off-kilter pacing is ultimately forgivable.
The lengthy build-up to the inciting event also affects the book's villain. Because he's not introduced until the middle, there isn't much time to flesh him out. As a result, his scenes and storylines feel rushed. He has a strong presence in the book all the same, injecting plenty of menace into the story, but I would have liked to see more of him.
Just to be clear, these are minor concerns. They weren't enough to make me dislike the story as a whole.
Content advisory: A sexual encounter begins but is interrupted before the characters can get undressed. It's not explicit at all. An “off-camera” rape is referenced but not described. There's a smattering of mild profanity and one crude joke. The violence is intense at times but the gore is not excessive. I'd rate this PG-13.
In short: A fun and exciting tale of brave damsels and noble knights. Recommended for anyone who wants to lose themselves in a realm of swords and chivalry for an afternoon. 4 out of 5 stars.
Chivalry's Children will be released on September 1st. In the meantime, watch for my Indie Author Interview of the month with Alexis Johnson, coming soon!