DISCLAIMER: THE WRITE READS PROVIDED ME A DIGITAL COPY OF THE NOVEL THE Hidden king BY E.G. Radcliffe IN EXCHANGE FOR AN HONEST REVIEW.
Genre: YA Fantasy
Length: 318 Pages
Publication Date: 12th July 2019
Hidden truths. Hidden power. Hidden destiny.
On the shores of a rusty sea, in the streets of a starving city, a young man named Áed scraps to build a life for himself and the makeshift family he loves. Scarred by a trauma he cannot remember, and haunted by the brutal damage it left behind, he has no idea of the courage his future will demand.
When tragedy strikes, a desperate Áed risks a treacherous, life-changing journey in his last chance to save the only family he has left – but an ancient legacy smoldering within him is about to turn deadly. Neither he – nor a kingdom – will ever be the same.
E.G. Radcliff IS A PART-TIME pooka and native of the Unseelie Court. She collects acorns, glass beads, and pretty rocks, and the crows outside her house know her as She Who Has Bread. (Prex: Ok, that made me smile.)
Her Coming of Áed fantasy series was crafted in the dead of night after offering sacrifices of almonds and red wine to the writing-block deities. (Prex: If this isn’t the most interesting profile, I don’t know what is!)
You can reach her by scrying bowl, carrier pigeon, or @egradcliff on social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or Amazon Author Page).
How I went on a journey with The Hidden King
In this review, I examine character development, parallelism, sociopolitics (a bit since I’m not a pro), and emotions evoked in E.G. Radcliffe’s The Hidden King. As always, feel free to discuss with me as I am open to any feedback or negation about my review – I tend to overread lol. And apparently, I don’t know how to create an introduction for my reviews so just read on.
Building a fire or Aed’s character development
When Aed’s frustration in giving Ninian a proper burial started a fire, something in my mind just clicked and I had to check the first few chapters to corroborate my hunch. The burning of Morcant gave me immense satisfaction for two reasons: 1) Ninian was rightfully avenged, 2) my lucky ‘hunch’ was right. Even early on, the reader, myself, had been prepared to accept the idea that Aed possessed a special ability. The book cover itself is one (how had I missed that? I had thought it was just a cool book cover lol) and words synonymous with fire pepper the parts when Aed is mentioned. Some of them are:
- eyes “red as fire”
- “Anger and fear both bright and hot…”
- “A spark of anger burned…”
- “Something hot and powerful surged within him.”
In the beginning, one would think these were just metaphors to describe Aed’s feelings, a literary device for the readers to empathize with him, but these also foreshadow who Aed is more than the events that prove that he has a significant background. I have already gotten accustomed to YA heroes coming from a special lineage (half demon, half god, half muggle) and I already predicted that Aed is half of something but these descriptions help mold his character so well that by the time it is revealed who he actually is and what constitutes him, my mind is already prepared to accept the idea, subconsciously thinking “Huh! That’s about right! It fits him perfectly”. When in fact, these are carefully planted easter eggs. The power of words!
Aed’s imprisonment in The White City’s dungeons is reminiscent of Edmond Dantes’s experience in The Count of Monte Cristo. Both are imprisoned without trial – Dantes more innocent than Aed of course – both have old companions that make their prison life less bleak, and both escape in feats minstrels could write songs about. However, whereas Dantes takes another identity to symbolize his rebirth, Aed takes it on a whole different level. Talking with Ronan on deciding whether to take the mantle of King, he acknowledges that surviving the dungeons and the torture is the pivotal point of his life as Aed of the Maze and now a successor to the throne. Far from denying who he is and his murky background, he wears it as a reminder. One loaded line that encapsulates his perception of this journey is, “Luck’s a funny word for it.”
I will not delve into Aed’s hands any longer but it is worth noting how backstories including why he has mangled hands, how he came to know Ninian and what happened to his parents are expressed not just by flashbacks but by dreams, conversations, and encounters help unravel and create Aed’s journey.
Parallelism and Irony
The Maze (Smudge) and The White City (Suibhne)
These places are put in stark contrast: one being compared to hell, the other, heaven. By the word smudge, a citizen from The White City can already imagine the hopelessness in the area without going there, and conversely, for the citizens of The Maze, they only imagine hope and prosperity in The White City. Poverty is the norm in The Maze whereas abundance is common in The White City. Aed notes this as he sees the citizens of The White City set aside a basket of bread, fruits, and wine as an offering to the faes. But with the peace and security The White City promises, Aed experiences torture so horrifying that The Smudge looks less bleak in comparison.
Ninian (the sacrificial lamb) and Boudicca (the muse)
Ninian and Boudicca both nurtured Aed. Aed has created a family with Ninian and Ronan and albeit impoverished, they have a place to call their home. On the other hand, Boudicca readily accepts Aed and Ronan to her home, even to the point of using her own connections to protect them. Ninian gives Aed a glimpse of the latter’s background, Boudicca completes it. Aed fiercely loves Ninian. His grief and vigil (
two sleepless nights and we get to understand why in the story! That’s great storytelling!) show that very clearly. When he has fond memories of Ninian to remember, Aed creates new ones with Boudicca. He may not love the latter as much as the first, nor was there any indication of a romantic inclination to the latter – save for that sunset in the No-Man’s-Land. The fact that Aed only danced with the two of them is enough for my mind to latch on to the idea.
Ronan (naivety) and Aed (pessimism)
The dynamic between Aed and Ronan is so special to me. They love and trust each other as much as any father and child, who have gone through so much together, will. From the very beginning, it is evident that Aed sees Ronan as his responsibility. What I find more interesting than that though is they look like parts of a whole. Ronan is that curious child who still finds optimism in life and is ready to accept what it can offer despite witnessing a number of horrible events for a child his age. Aed is that man who has been forced to grow up so fast that he takes life as it is, accepting the negative side and treating it as something more natural than comfort. However, in their journey toward The White City, the table turns a little and Aed becomes the more optimistic of the two. The focal point of this dynamic happens when Aed talks with Ronan one on one to discuss his ultimate decision. Ronan becomes more pessimistic as a new challenge threatens their stability and Aed tries his best to explain his side. He needs Ronan to fill that positive side of him.
Manipulation and Sociopolitics
Aed’s ascension to the throne might have looked so easy with hardly a squabble but politics isn’t overt. No doubt this will be further explored in the succeeding novels. For one considered illiterate, Aed shows an innate understanding of how relationships and reputations work. His perception is introduced early on as he gambles to earn some money. This comes in handy as he is given a huge responsibility that people around him, familiar or unfamiliar, find too much for him to handle. How can one from The Smudge lead a whole different society? He hasn’t even had the chance to lead any gang in The Maze – this one is more from my point of view rather than the one explored in the novel lol. Aed’s only claim to the throne is his connection to the former king and the latter’s despicable exploits. Would that suffice?
It is somehow understandable how Elisedd, Boudicca’s stepfather, underestimates him. Elisedd himself has spent years building his own reputation, establishing connections with important people in the Council and here comes a 17-year-old red-eyed someone, from The Smudge no less, who refuses his service.
Once again, Aed proves that he can read people even when letters or characters elude him. He doesn’t cower and faces Elisedd head-on, even outsmarting him in their little powerplay.
Another instance when Aed shows this is how he faces the most despicable character in the novel (it’s a must-read, I tell you) and turns the table on him. His growth from someone who lets things happen to him to one who takes control and delegates that control is astounding. At first, I thought there could be a better way to avenge himself but I realized it’s Aed’s way of showing who has the authority and those in power don’t need to do the dirty stuff themselves.
The feelings The Hidden King evoked
I can’t help but wonder why I keep subjecting myself to works that make me feel several emotions all at once.
I shouldn’t let books control me this way. But I digress. With The Hidden King, I grieved his loss, marveled at his tenacity, and celebrated his triumph. Aed’s feelings for Ninian is so raw that his helplessness and frustration can be empathized with. For someone who has seen the underbelly of their society, a spark of optimism and his love for Ronan are enough to push him forward. When he finally strikes against his opponents and is crowned King, I’m one of his avid spectators.
With all the bleakness in The Maze’s atmosphere and the threat looming in The White City, there’s also humor. When Ronan proudly proclaims that he does so many things for Aed and the latter finds it amusing that the young boy speaks for him and when the cab driver tells an injured Aed to keep his blood inside his body are just two scenes that tickle my funny bones.
What do I look forward to in the next installment? I want to know if Eamon is good or bad. Somehow, his father taking all the blame is too contrived. If he ends up being a really good character then I don’t mind. I also find Aed and Cynwrig’s awkward interaction interesting. Best of all, I want to know what Aed does for The Maze and The White City. What makes him different as a ruler aside from his mangled hands, his fae blood, and red eyes? I’m also about to review The Wild Court so I’m going to find out for myself.