Book Review

Review: The Cup and the Prince by Day Leitao

First off, fabulous cover. Very Sorcery of Thorns, love it. Unfortunately, the story itself, and in particular its execution, just didn’t really live it up to its lovely outside …

Title: The Cup and the Prince
Author: Day Leitao
Series: Kingdom of Curses and Shadows #1
Pages: 256
Publisher: Sparkly Wave
Publication Date: 15th October 2020
Ownership: eARC provided by the publisher

Rating: 2 stars

About the Book

When Zora is betrayed by her boyfriend, she decides to take his place as champion of the Dark Valley and head to the capital city and compete in the Royal Games. But, as the only female contestant (and the first female contestant at that), she doesn’t receive a warm welcome, but she is determined to prove herself, and her ex, wrong.

Zora must face a series of opponents and challenges, whilst also navigating the king and his two younger brothers, who all seem to have their own plans for how she can be of use.

My Review

You can imagine why I thought this would be quite a standard YA competition/fantasy/romance story. And in essence, it was. Zora is the plucky young protagonist who has to prove her worth, take part in a series of challenges and manoeuvre her way around some scheming princes who are all playing their own game. And it’s fun, and short and sparky and I am thankful for all of those things.

Unfortunately, there were a number of problems.

First off, no plot should hinge on the main character’s virginity. Zora’s main motivation for joining the Royal Games was not actually to prove herself, or represent the Dark Valley. It was because her boyfriend cheated on her. And, as the champion, because he expected her to have sex with him. However, it would be completely inappropriate to call it sex, instead, it talks about her giving herself to him, or of other characters, who get to do whatever they want, being rude, or inappropriate or naughty. I hate sex-censorship in a book. /Thankfully/ Zora remains pure, especially when compared with the other main female character who will apparently just sleep with anyone … ??!

Zora herself has the standard ballsy, young, attractive YA heroine thing going on. She thinks she’s not as pretty as the other girls and seems to flip between wanting to represent her region, and wanting to get revenge on her cheating boyfriend. And then trying to prove herself as a female champion. But because there wasn’t a set or clear motivation, and because we never really find out what the Blood Cup actually is or does (or why anyone might want to win it) I couldn’t really care less whether she actually won or not.

Also, the challenges themselves. Although they had quite a Hunger Games-y vibe to them, they quite honestly seemed lame. Although they were designed to challenge Zora specifically, (again, unclear why, except that the prince seemed to want her out of the competition) that didn’t appear to stop her. Add to that the threat of someone trying to kill Zora – which never felt quite real, especially when she was mentally jumping between basically the two other main characters as the culprit.

I liked the starting premise of these shadow creatures that inhabit the Dark Valley … and then it was completely dropped, as Zora moved away from the valley. There was a nice running theme of her adjusting to completely new situations ie sleeping on a bed (where shadow creatures would spawn underneath) or fighting in the dark. But these concerns and adjustments petered out quite quickly.

And there were some nice moments where Zora challenges the way that women are seen e.g. with a painter who is aware he’s making crude paintings for a male audience, but needs to sell them to support his family. But she is constantly being told what to do by the princes – it’s just that they are no so overtly rude as someone insulting you to your face. It’s still sexist.

And the sexism that was there, albeit in a clearly male-dominated society, was extremely uncomfortable and made the ‘romance’ element all wrong. It is NOT charming to want to protect someone under the guise of making the audience uncomfortable if a woman is hurt. It’s not attractive to play matchmaking games that seem to have no purpose. And it’s certainly not a redeeming feature to constantly comment on how attractive all the women are. I didn’t get Zora’s romance story. And quite honestly it was unpleasant to read.

As a bare bones, the story itself was good. It’s just that it wasn’t fleshed out in the right way, or in all the wrong places, that made this quite uncomfortable to read, and it did not challenge its own problems sufficiently.

I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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