A world of glamour and luxury along with a catchy title and written by one of my favourite authors aren’t enough to pull me in, I realised. Like so many Richelle Mead fans, I was excited about The Glittering Court. The book centres on countess Adelaide (real name Elizabeth) who escapes from an arranged marriage and becomes part of the Glittering Court, a school that teaches girls of humble and questionable backgrounds to become part of the elite.
Adelaide takes on an identity and tries to keep a low profile so she won’t be discovered. But things start to complicate her plan to freedom with Cedric and a growing list of manipulators.
Spoilers ahead. You can stop here or read on – but if you’re a Richelle Mead fan…well, it’s your choice to continue on.
I wanted to love this book, I thought I would, but there are a lot of things that repulsed me. The Glittering Court started out as great, interesting and the stakes were high with Adelaide’s running away and the competition between her and the other girls being trained to be ladies.
I should’ve taken note of the first red flag. The first mention of “savages” and colonies. I was startled. Here I was reading and enjoying these ladies-in-training and then one mention of “savages” and colonies (and the smug way this was delivered) stabbed me in the back. I let it go, thinking that it was just a passing thing, but then it cropped up. A LOT. Throughout the book.
And there’s no reaction from the protagonist and other characters. The passive treatment of these “savages” is normalised. I’ll get back to this.
Things started to go downhill with the romance between Adelaide and Cedric. I liked their first meeting but then…there was just nothing to lead them to get all over each other. They come off as more friends than lovers.
I’m still trying to gather my mind about this book because it’s all over the place in terms of plot. Adelaide’s goal gets lost. I thought she wanted to escape because she wanted freedom. The Glittering Court was just a way for her to make that happen, but she spent all her time being pretty and she went along with the “be a proper wife” and “selling the ladies to bidding men (who are colonisers)” thing. A much worse situation than an arranged marriage.
Everything’s solved in the end with random characters popping up to help Adelaide and Cedric. And it’s soooo convenient. I have to say it but it’s not realistic. Though the crisis had me “Oh my god, this situation is really bad but there are no ways out of it”, the way it was solved was a letdown. The miracle is so forced in and there’s no depth. The characters who help to solve the problem are disposable, only there for that reason.
The Glittering Court is basically a pimp business. I thought Adelaide would’ve stood up against this. But she was just “Yeah, whatever. At least I’ll have freedom in the New World even though I’ll be married to someone who paid for me and I’m forced to marry him.” Seriously? Oh, right, she and the girls have the right to choose their husband out of suitors arranged or bid for them. How lovely and liberating. And I’ll get back to the “New World” part.
Adelaide did stand up for her friend Tasmin when the latter was lost to sea along with a shipful of ladies and Jasper, the head of the Glittering Court, was preoccupied about the financial loss gained from the disaster. But that’s short-lived. Adelaide moves on.
I thought Adelaide would’ve planned an escape when she and co. arrived in the New World. But then she and Cedric grew close and everything went to hell with them being discovered. This forces them to marry but before they can do that, they have to pay a debt as dictated by Adelaide’s contract since Cedric’s offering to marry her and he doesn’t have sufficient funds.
Warren, who is Adelaide’s promising suitor and the governor’s son, offers to help him – of course he has an ulterior motive – by offering him a position. Cedric working for him at the mines on a colony that he governs. Adelaide and Cedric struggle (oh poor them, people of privileged classes) and they end up eloping (because they couldn’t wait to have sex, and feared for safety and of course the ticking time bomb that is Adelaide’s contract). I’m not a fan of forced marriages even if the couple do love each other. It reminded me of Jamie and Claire from Outlander. Marriage for security and love gets thrown in there. What’s the point of Adelaide escaping an arranged marriage? Well, I guess if it’s the right guy, it’s okay to be pressured to marry him (no matter how short you’ve been together as a couple)…
It also seems that Adelaide has more agency when it comes to her man. Seriously, she doesn’t really fight for her friends and fellow ladies-in-training Tasmin and Mira as much as she does for Cedric.
Her friendship with them is nice but it’s sort of one sided and passive. While Tasmin and Mira has done supportive things for Adelaide, Adelaide doesn’t reciprocate on an equal level. We don’t see her helping them or even go after them when they disappear. She just wonders, panics a little and moves on. Mira reappears, only to be a convenience for Adelaide who has gone to stressing over Cedric (Oh, right, she’s a wife, not a teenage girl in a relationship of instalove origins).
I get that when it comes to their history, they respect each other’s secrets. But it does create a distance and Adelaide every now and then contemplates about Mira’s questionable past, if the rumours were true…(yes, Adelaide does slut shame a certain girl and this girl is not a well-rounded character, nothing more than a typical bitch rival).
The characters are mostly flat. More description is given to clothes and to an extent, places. I found Adelaide awesome at first but then she became irritating as it became clear that she hasn’t really left her old ways of high rank. She manipulates and is selfish. She basically steals her maid’s identity and later uses her friend Mira (who stands in for POC and diversity) to achieve her goal: to free Cedric. Not to mention that the life Mira envisioned is the life Adelaide gets and the former doesn’t get it. If you think about it, you’ll see that Adelaide is a reflection of a white person claiming things that aren’t hers to begin with.
I was more drawn to Mira and Tasmin. They have more agency and the stakes for them are higher than Adelaide’s, especially when Adelaide’s goal is…well, she no longer has one that’s independent of romance once her life starts to revolve around Cedric.
Mira is a refugee and is discriminated. Tasmin is from a lower class and will do anything to get to the top as, it’s implied, that she’s doing this for her family. Yet they don’t get the spotlight and we don’t get to know them that much – it would’ve been better if the book was in third person and alternated between different POVS. Damn, why are secondary characters, the friends, are more compelling than the protagonist?
Other than Mira and Tasmin, I didn’t feel any connection with Adelaide and Cedric – sure, he’s sweet but that’s it. Their character development is non-existent. They don’t really change. Even after all she’s been through, Adelaide is still the same as she was in the beginning. She never gets off her high horse.
I didn’t give a consideration about this because there wasn’t any room for it. We have Cedric practicising a forbidden religion and is at risk of being discovered and this plays a part in his trial towards the end. But there’s no urgency, no fleshing this topic out. BUT it’s given precedence over the issue with race, the native and colonisation in Adelaide’s POV. She cares more about Cedric being caught as a heretic than people being driven out of their lands and discriminated.
I thought The Glittering Court was about fairies – I was wrong. It was marketed as fantasy. But it’s not. The only fantasy element is the fictional lands – actually these lands are just fictional counterparts of Britain and America, the coloniser and the colonised.
The book is more historical romance or even contemporary.
Is it YA? I have no idea. It doesn’t feel like NA either.
Promoting a book with the wrong genre? Risky, isn’t it?
“The New World”, “Savages” and Colonisation
No. No. No. A thousands times NO. The setting is clearly and heavily drawn from Elizabethan and colonial eras. It has a Pocahontas vibe – it’s worse than the Pocahontas movie. It comes out as pro-colonisation. It’s 2016 and this romanticisation of colonies and colonisers is still a problem despite diversity being encouraged.
Mead stuck with the conventional and set up a world where colonisation is some kind of right and everyone including the protagonist has no objection to it. It made me question: Was this book beta read or at least critiqued by non-white people? Because if I noticed the flippant racial overtones, then other readers would’ve too.
The natives or “savages” are absent besides the minor appearances of some demanding justice over territories who, not surprisingly, prevent Cedric from getting executed – Adelaide didn’t even thank them for their intrusion. Oh and they’re white and resemble Scottish Highlanders. So on top of using and erasing POCs, portraying POCS as sidekicks ready at the white protagonist’s disposal, and belitting natives, these natives are white. I know that Scottish Highlanders were discriminated but the fact that the culture and colonisation is more associated with Colonial America and Australia…I really struggled with reading this book.
You see white privilege in action. “One day, arts and education could flourish here like they have in Osfro…I’m excited to be part of it…” – Adelaide. I’m fine with villains as protagonists. Some of my favs are villains. But I’m not okay with villains and protagonists who are pro-colonists and racists.
Note that Adelaide is being trained up to be a proper wife to a coloniser. And she has no objection to this.
Another line: “Don’t you look like a proper frontier woman, ready to ride off and tame the wild.” The meaning isn’t lost on me and the recurring word frontier got on my nerves. It evoked cowboys and Indians, and colonial life in Australia where Aborigines were mistreated and white men did whatever they liked since they were not in Mother England. This is reflected through the people living in the colonies in The Glittering Court. No one stands up to this shit either.
Also the way Adelaide treats Mira at first is passive. She even speaks up for her and TEACHES HER TO SPEAK OSFRIDIAN PROPERLY because of her “funny accent”. Like a strong advocate of assimilation and [name of European country] superiority.
It turns out that Mira is a refugee and of a background that others are repulsed of. There’s one part where it’s mentioned that a plantation owner made a marriage offer to Mira. A plantation owner. For a refugee. Just…what?
Mira deserves better.
This book had potential with the natives fighting to get their land back and the protagonist helping them. But instead, Adelaide uses her origins, her title and rank as countess, to help Cedric. Others, no, wait, she doesn’t help others.
I wasn’t surprised that rape was used as a plot device, but it really repulsed me. Adelaide almost gets raped by Warren. And this leads to a court being sceptical of her “claim” and dismissed her while Warren gets off the hook. This was the only part that I didn’t criticise. It’s an issue in reality. But my criticism flared again when Adelaide moves on. Like nothing happened. And Cedric isn’t angry at the almost rape?
Anyway, Adelaide and Cedric get what they wanted. Oh and what a hasty goodbye to Tasmin and Mira at the end. It’s like they don’t matter.
In conclusion, I can’t believe that this book was written by one of my favourite authors who has written amazing books previously. It made me want her to write more Vampire Academy novels and even a Soundless sequel.
Despite beautiful writing, The Glittering Court overlooked a lot of issues especially racism, colonisation and equality – intersectional. I’m not sure it even passes as feminist. The plot is all over the place and most of the scenes and twists were predictable. The only thing that sort of stood true was the romance, but there’s not much depth to it. Most of the characters are flat. Like The Glittering Court, almost everything in this book stays at the surface.
I’m only looking forward to the next book because of Mira and Tasmin.
The Glittering Court is an example why diversity is important and why people fight for it. So we wouldn’t have a glorified portrayal of an issue like colonisation and white privilege.