Title: Goddess Crown
Author: Shade Lapite
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Review Copy: Provided by publisher
Availability: Available now
Summary: In this thrilling Afro-fantasy, the first set in the lush, opulent kingdom of Galla, a girl raised in secret must leave her sheltered rural home for the subtle dangers of the royal court, where she becomes caught up in deadly power struggles and romantic intrigue.
Kalothia has grown up in the shadows of her kingdom, hidden away in the forested East after her parents were outed as enemies of the king. Raised in a woodland idyll by a few kindly adult caretakers, Kalothia can hunt and fish and fend for herself but knows little of the outside world. When assassins attack her home on her sixteenth birthday, she must flee to the king’s court in the West—a beautiful but lethal nest of poison, plots, and danger, overseen by an entrenched patriarchy. Guided by the Goddess herself, can Kalothia navigate this most worldly of places to find her own role? What if she must choose between her country and her heart? Excitement, romance, and a charismatic heroine shine in this first book set in the unforgettable kingdom of Galla.
Review: [Most of the action in Goddess Crown happens in a sexist, patriarchal kingdom, to the extent that there are multiple mentions of women not being taught to read, customarily don’t travel by themselves, and are not meant to lead due to religious precepts. Forced marriage is a late-book plot point as well.]
Shade Lapite’s Goddess Crown is a fast-paced fantasy book that starts off will some well-loved hero tropes (family secrets, a doomed hometown, animal companion, etc.) but quickly expands its scope and world building once Kalothia is forced into the wider world. Kalothia is a fun protagonist, and her determination to seek justice is a major driver for the overall plot. I liked exploring the kingdom of Galla from her point of view, even if what Kalothia encountered was difficult to deal with.
The sexism in the patriarchal kingdom of Galla is a pervasive plot point. The author generally does a good job of avoiding the “not like other girls” trope with Kalothia, who has several moments where she encounters women/girls in Galla who are surprised by her traveling alone or being able to read. Kalothia doesn’t look down on them or act condescending to them but is instead consistently frustrated with the men who are enforcing the system via religion. She is determined to do what she can in spite of the role she is supposed to have in society. There are some sexist villains who rise to the level of cartoonish, which can become tiring, but the Goddess herself gives readers some hope that things in Galla will change (slowly) with Kalothia’s help. That said, there are very few (alive) female characters of significance in the book, and with how fast-paced the book is, there’s little time to develop most of them.
The book is a very fast read. New obstacles spring up and are dealt with so quickly that I found myself wishing multiple times that there were fewer of them so that we could dig deeper into the major ones. The cave sequence and trial, for example, were over so quickly that they felt anticlimactic. I also wished Kalothia spent far more time with Bukki and Nahir on the page so that I could appreciate their relationships more. Despite this, Kalothia’s relationship with Nahir still hit enough romantic beats that I was willing to buy in to the couple’s development. Ultimately, I think the scope of this book deserved a hundred more pages; I hope the other books set in Galla will have more space to breathe.
Recommendation: Borrow it someday if you’re a fan of fantasy. Author Shade Lapite has built an interesting world, but the fast pace of the overall storyline didn’t leave much room to dive deep into the kingdom or many of the characters. There is a lot of promise here in Goddess Crown, and I hope that future installments give readers a chance to get to know more characters better.