My rating: 3.5 stars.
The Bastard Prince is a good fantasy novella with a few flaws that detract from the overall enjoyment. Now, this is listed as a third book in a series, but I read it first to get a taste for the style since it’s stand-alone and much shorter than the novels. I like what I see here, with some reservations, and I’ll probably read the other books at some point.
I found the core romance very satisfying, with the initially reluctant Reyes coming around to Kinnaird’s affection. This part of the novella, where a budding relationship evolves into something deep and lasting, was the highlight for me. I liked Reyes a lot as a main character, he’s easy to appreciate as someone who wants to serve the King but has no ambitions at court. Kinnaird is also a loyal earl with a secret power he uses in service of the Kingdom. He’s interesting, complex, and a great love interest.
The plot itself initially starts out very strongly, with incidents occurring across the Kingdom that threaten the safety of its people. Finding the perpetrator turns out to be less than easy, and things are further complicated when a young man arrives at court claiming to be the king’s bastard son. The story does tie up nicely, if a little too neatly to be true. I think the ending could have used a little more time to pan out. One aspect of the ending really did seem unrealistic to me and really could have used some questioning from the other characters. The fact that it could be done at all kind of underlines how little we know about the antagonists.
The villains in this are in fact my biggest problem. They’re incredibly one-dimensional and their motivations are never explained. They’re working for an enemy kingdom… why? This was never expanded on to my satisfaction, and so they came across as simply horrible people. I want more explanation than that for my antagonists. I want to know what makes them tick, if there’s some slight or insult that makes them want vengeance, if they’re unhappy or proud of what they do. Instead they’re all conveniently cleaned up and everybody lives Happily Ever After… which is fine, but I felt like there needed to be more fallout and consequences than there were. The ending felt a little hollow after the air had been sucked out of the big reveal.
Other than that I did like this book, it was a good bedtime read. The world interested me enough to make me want to see more, but to earn 5 stars it would need to be revised with more emphasis on the characterization of the villains. I prefer romance novels with actual plot, but the story needs to be fully realized and not just a side dish.