There are two sides to every story, but they can't both be true, can they? In the second book of the Birthright Series, Bridget E. Baker weaves a tale of bad things done for very good reasons and an unexpected chance at redemption.
To be feared is lonely. . .
As heir to the evian throne, Judica must be perfect every moment of every day. If she slips up, even once, her mother will replace her. Impossible standards, horrifying decisions, terrible truths—none of these stop Judica from doing what needs to be done. She becomes what her mother demands, what her people need, what she never wanted for herself. But it isn't enough.
But to be weak is death.
Judica's worst nightmare becomes a reality when her twin sister Chancery steals the throne. Her life is over, all her efforts a waste. Judica should be furious, but strangely, she's relieved. The freedom from her former responsibilities leaves her time to pursue her mother's killer. But as she unravels the clues, the truth slips further away. When her investigation leads to a common enemy, Judica must decide whether she's willing to mend the deep and painful fractures between her and Chancery, or whether she's too far gone. Once a villain, always a villain?
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Redemption is never impossible
Judica is heir to the Evian throne, the most powerful position in the world. She has spent her entire life training for this position (how many five-year-olds have to learn battle strategy and diplomacy and hand-to-hand combat?). And at age 17, when her mother unexpectedly dies, she finds herself taking the position she has devoted her life to. Until she discovers that just days before, her mother changed the heir paperwork, naming her twin sister the new empress. Chancery, the sister who received their mother’s affection while Judica received her instruction. The one who knows next to nothing about running a government while Judica has given up her childhood to learn how. On top of that, Chancery formally accuses Judica of killing their mother.
Surprisingly, Judica doesn’t really mind being passed over for empress. She fights Chancery, but more out of concern for what would happen to Evian with a young, weak ruler. Because weak is the one thing that an empress of a supernatural race cannot be. As a young child, Judica learned the terrible truth that a ruler cannot show compassion or even affection for anyone who could be a rival…particularly a twin sister who could assert a claim to the throne. So she pushes herself to be perfect, unflawed by any weakness. The one person in whom she could have confided, sharing her struggles and finding relief from the constant tension, is her mother, the empress. And the empress chose to love Chancery. All of the time she spent with Judica was training, teaching her how to be the perfect leader.
But what Chancery doesn’t know is that her cold, hard sister actually yearns for her love. That Judica wishes she could fall in love just because of who a person is rather than how he can help her rule. That she deeply loved the mother who only seemed to see her as the heir. That she isn’t cruel because she enjoys being cruel. That she wonders if there’s a possibility of a second chance at being sisters rather than rivals.
One of my favorite aspects of Bridget Baker’s books is the depth of character she portrays, and the fact that every single character has understandable and redeemable qualities. I can identify much more with Chancery, both in personality and the way she was raised. I can’t imagine being in Judica’s situation…and yet, I live her life as I read this book. I feel her pain at desperately trying for her mother’s affection while it is lavished on Chancery. And I wonder: how many of the “bullies” I’ve known were in a similar situation, avoiding any display of weakness for their own survival in a harsh situation, but secretly yearning for love? I also like that although there is a strong story arc that goes through the series (this book does not wrap up all the questions), it doesn’t end on an unsatisfying cliffhanger.
I strongly recommend that all the “Chancerys” in life, who go through hard things but know love, read this book to understand others better. And I recommend that all the “Judicas” read it to see that there is hope.