4.5 stars, rounded up to 5.
“Kings or Pawns” is the first installment of a series that seems to be deliberately going for a grittier version of Tolkien, and for the most part, it works. Set in a world with elves, dwarves, humans, orcs (whom we don’t see), and various other creatures, it follows the political intrigue surrounding a new king’s attempts to reform his council and battle a rebel general. If this sounds dry, it’s not: along with the intrigue, there’s romance, swordfights, daring rescues, and a MAJOR plot twist at the end that I can’t say anything more about for fear of spoilers, but that had me right on the edge of my seat for the last few chapters.
The worldbuilding is impressively detailed if, as I mentioned above, very Tolkienesque, which is fun but occasionally derivative. The bad council members were almost cartoonishly villainous, and I did have to wonder about the supposedly positive characters who used the services of prostitutes despite the risk of execution for said prostitutes: risking your own life is one thing, but putting someone else in danger of execution is something else entirely. However, these are minor quibbles, and overall the book is an exciting read that should appeal to lots of fans of high fantasy, with the promise of lots more intrigue and adventures to come.
I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.