ARC Review: “Lions in the Garden” by Chelsea Luna

lions2bin2bthe2bgardenLions in the Garden (The Uprising #1) by Chelsea Luna

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Prague, 1610

Ludmila Novakova–Mila–has barely set foot outside Prague Castle in her seventeen years. But with the choice between braving the bandits and wolves of Bohemia’s uneasy roads or being married off to a disgusting old baron, she’s taken what she can carry and fled.

Escape won’t be easy. Even Mila has heard the rumors of a rebellion coming against the court. The peasants are hungry. The king hasn’t been seen in months. Mila’s father, the High Chancellor, is well known and well hated.

But Mila can’t sit behind a stone wall and let fear force her into a life of silk gowns and certain misery. Her mother’s death has taught her that much. She has one ally: Marc, the son of the blacksmith. A commoner, a Protestant–and perhaps a traitor, too. But the farther she gets from the castle, the more lies she uncovers, unraveling everything she thought she knew. And the harder it is to tell friend from enemy–and wrong from right…

Three stars

Thanks to NetGalley, Kensington Books and Lyrical Press for this eARC! This title will be published on March 1, 2016.

As a lover of anything vaguely historical fiction, I knew I had to request this from NetGalley. Luna tackles a period of history and a place that I had never read anything of before, and that alone hooked me. However, the first few chapters … well, they were really rough.

The story sure does open with Mila running away from home, but don’t let that fool you. She makes it nowhere before a band of thieves catch her in a trap, kill her horse and almost kill her. Thankfully, she is rescued by Marc, the middle son of the local blacksmith. He takes her back to the castle, with the promise to help her find passage to Spain if she has to marry the fat old guy who came by the castle last week. Oh, and of course on that horse ride back, they have to both ride on his horse and sparks fly and yadda yadda.

The opening feels extremely contrived, especially when it’s revealed that Mila doesn’t have to marry that old guy because the young, hot duke–Radek–who’s known her since childhood is making a very territorial claim on her–and had always planned to, so I guess she was never in danger of marrying anyone but him anyways? No idea. Anyways.

By this point, I was panicking. There was way more insta-love and shades of love triangle than I wanted to see, and too little of the historical that I had originally come for. Amazingly, however, no love triangle emerges. Mila dislikes Radek immensely–independently of meeting and falling instantly in love with Marc, which is important to me–and really, really doesn’t want to marry him. It’s helpful to the plot that Marc falls instantly in love with Mila as well, after seeing her for like sixty seconds, but having dodged the love triangle bullet I could live with it.

Enough about the insta-love. It did make the opening sequence of this novel painful, but after that I found myself quite intrigued. Luna does finally dig into the issues between the Catholics and the Protestants, and initially I found her treatment of it really great. Mila is a life-long Catholic and naive to a fault, so she ends up having some good discussions with Marc about how not all Catholics are as evil as he thinks they are and stuff like that. Marc also teaches Mila not to be prejudiced towards Protestants and Gypsies and gets her to see his side of the coin. This was the historical flavor that I had come for, and I–eventually–did get it, and I really enjoyed it.

Also, the way that Mila interacts with Radek throughout the novel is beautiful. For some reason, so many YA novels want to make the main character fall half in love with anyone who’s interested in them, and Mila was so violently NOT ABOUT Radek the whole time. Even if she did fall insta-love with Marc, it was refreshing to see her stand up for herself where Radek was concerned. She knew Radek’s possessiveness did not equal love, and that was very important to me.

The side stories about King Rudolf and Mila’s mother were also well done. I can’t go into them without spoiling a great deal of the plot, but their characterization and backstories were interesting and dovetailed in nicely to give the plot a more multidimensional feel. Though the story was 90% about Mila and Marc, the 10% given to these other stories were strong and enjoyable.

On a not so great random note, however, Mila experienced a lot of physical roughness that I found rather … discomforting. You could play a mild drinking game with how many times men try to assault her and/or knock her out. It’s nothing graphic and nothing major ever happens, but she always need to be saved and people keep physically roughing her up. She does make some strides towards the end of the novel to begin to learn to defend herself, which I hope she continues in the next book because YIKES.

Just as I was getting into the Catholic/Protestant conflict and Mila and Marc’s great back and forth on the subject, however, the ending happens. I’m going to be extremely vague here to avoid spoilers, but basically one side ends up being characterized as completely evil and one side as the greater good and it was … frustrating. It completely destroyed the back and forth that had happened before, both in how that character had been previously characterized as religious and the great discussion about how neither was right but neither was wrong. Instead, the historical element and religious discussion seemed to bend entirely to the whim of a hyperbolic Romeo and Juliet retelling. I’m not even religious, but this treatment bothered me.

All in all, I found this book to be a bit of a roller-coaster. I originally thought I wouldn’t enjoy it at all, but once I got into the meat of it I found a rhythm that was interesting. The ending frustrated me again, to the point where I had to even out my rating to three stars. Luna clearly has storytelling talent and Mila’s character has serious potential now that most of the naivete has (literally) been knocked out of her. Though the next book won’t be something I’m raring to pick up, the history and Mila interested me enough that I would read it to see if her character improves in the way that I hope she does.

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