Huge thanks to Netgalley for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review
"Ambition or Love" Adela Tilden has always been more ambitious than her station in life might allow. A minor nobleman's daughter on a failing barony, Adela's prospects seem dire outside of marrying well-off. When Adela catches the eye of the crown prince, Edward, however, well-off doesn't seem to be a problem. Thrown into a world of politics and intrigue, Adela might have found all the excitement she ever wanted-if she can manage to leave her past behind.
I am a huge fan of historical novels, particularly when they feature a strong female protagonist who isn’t afraid to use her wits/charms/any attributes whatsoever to get what she wants, so I was understandably excited when I started this one. However it all went downhill from the blurb and the pretty cover.
The biggest problem is Adela. Whilst it may be historically accurate that girls were married off young, reading about a fifteen year old girl who is so forward as to be almost obscene and delights in seducing men left, right and centre, does not make for good reading. It instead makes for highly uncomfortable and awkward reading and there were more than a few points where I nearly put the book down. If she was just a few years older or her character was approached in a slightly different way it would alleviate a lot of the problems. She also has no depth to her. There is nothing that makes her feel like a real person. She is a plot device and not a particularly well used one. She has nothing beyond her beauty that makes her an individual and as a result she becomes a very one note character and one that isn’t sympathetic in the slightest.
The second problem is the lack of setting and plot. It’s obvious that this is supposed to be an historical novel. However there is no real idea of setting – in fact nothing about what land it is is mentioned until a third of the way through the novel, and then only briefly before being forgotten about. It means that the reader assumes that this will be some sort of European setting given the titles and hierarchy, not to mention the clothing and royal family. However if that is the case then the dialogue is massively flawed as it is littered with colloquialisms, modernisms and general awkwardness. The lack of setting really doesn’t do the novel any favours and leaves the reader feeling confused and lost throughout most of the book.
Then there is the plot. Or lack thereof. The first quarter of the novel serves no purpose whatsoever and would put most readers off reading the entirety of the novel. It feels like it’s trying to be a period drama, focusing on Adela and her rise to power, but it has no driving force, no real pacing and you just drift through three years of Adela’s life without really feeling like you’ve gone on a journey as Adela herself has no real character growth or objective. Like I’ve said before, she is a flat character that cannot carry the story on her own.
And finally the dialogue. The novel is 85% dialogue. A bold choice and in some cases one that can really pay off and make the novel stand out. However in this case it really didn’t pay off. The dialogue was awkward and clunky and in some places didn’t even make a vast amount of sense. I was constantly reminded of the rule of thumb that if the dialogue isn’t giving the reader information or moving the plot forwards then it isn’t needed. Whole swathes of the dialogue in this weren’t needed. They bogged down what little momentum was achieved in the story and didn’t advance anything.
There is a section in the middle of the novel where things started to come together offering a glimmer of plot and forward motion. Adela didn’t come across as quite so terrible anymore and it felt like that there was the kernel of plot that could have been expanded and brought to life in re-writes. However it was short lived and the novel quickly dissolved back into its former state.
Ultimately this novel read like it was a first draft. One that had a lot of great ideas, but needed a lot of re-writes and edits to turn it into a novel that could have lived up to the promise of the ideas within.