Ruling and Intrigue (Politics in YA)

Everyone wants power.

Unfortunately, power is treated and viewed as a limited resource. To have it means that a lot of other people do not have it. To have power, after all, means that a certain number of people (willingly or not, knowingly or not) have to submit to your will.

To have none makes you vulnerable to those unscrupulous enough to use you on their way to more power or just those sadistic enough to want you to suffer. But ironically enough, having power just makes you an even bigger target to those who would want to claim your power for their own. Not to mention the age-old and well-used saying that “power corrupts.” In other words, there’s a big chance you end up wanting more power to protect whatever power you already have to the point that you will cross lines and trample lines to get more.

This theme has been explored in many different genre. But let’s focus on the genre of political intrigue.

The following selections feature characters who have been thrust into positions of power either by the circumstances of their birth or by their proximity to the powerful. More often than not, they start out in a vulnerable position. All the better for them to appreciate the merits of having power.

This is not to say that the characters I mentioned are all power-hungry. They don’t want power just for the sake of it. But being lowest on the totem pole certainly helped show them how power can protect them and those they love. So these characters are unlikely to say: “I don’t want power.” But to get back to the point, they have other goals they wish to achieve and having power certainly helps them to get to where they want to go.

Unfortunately, the political milieu they find themselves in is an obstacle in and of itself. More often than not, they are in the middle of a deadly and decadent court populated by nobles or politicians who feel entitled to whatever they want and will stop at nothing to get it.

If the main character’s goal involves anything even vaguely philanthropic, any reader can be sure that the deadly and decadent court will get in the main character’s way.

But what I like about the characters in the following books is that they do not stand by and let themselves get beaten by their enemies. They will fight back (though usually not in the physical sense). More often than not, they will use their wit, powers of observation and whatever knowledge they can glean to put their enemies in their place

But this is not to say that the main characters are saints. The following books make them extremely sympathetic. But a lot of them have to resort to a lot of shady stuff to protect themselves and others as well as to achieve their goals (goals that usually involve helping the weak and disenfranchised).

More often than not, the following books show you that no sane and decent person would really want to rule. Not if he knows ruling entails having to have blood (literal or metaphorical) in your hands. Not if ruling means dealing with self-serving nobles and politicians that make you see the worst of human nature in what should have been a “civilized” environment.

For any sympathetic main character of political intrigues, it seems inevitable for them to question themselves. How far are they willing to go to achieve their goals AND ensuring they and their loved ones live through any action they want to implement? One would think they were in a middle of the battlefield or a high-stakes suspense series.

But in a way, they are. Being in a position of power means holding the lives of many in the palm of your hand. It means that one seemingly benign decision could impact more than one generation. Thus, any conscientious ruler would not be faulted for feeling the weight of the world in their shoulders.

Most of the time, political intrigue is in the realm of the adult fiction genre (those for 18 and above). But being a lover of Young Adult fiction, I found the following books that I think fit the political intrigue category without having explicit sex scenes (LOL)

Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Maya is the youngest and least-favored son of the Elf Emperor. Being half-goblin may have had something to do with it. He was sent far from court and was never really mentioned at court. In any case, he is such an UNFAVORITE that those who want the emperor and his sons killed forgot to assassinate him. Thus, paving the way for Maya to be the new emperor. Unfortunately, growing up far from court and unschooled in its ways makes him vulnerable. Added to that is the added complication of his eldest brother’s widow, who wants her son to be emperor.

This book needs more love IMO. Yes, it starts out slow. But it gets interesting as the story progresses. I love the world building and Maya. In a lot of ways, he’s very young and vulnerable. Though this is not to say that he is weak. Yes, he’s still pretty new at ruling. But that isn’t to say that he will blindly follow all that advisors want him to do. He has his own mind and will fight for what really matters to him.

Maya is a strong character. But in order to show that, I think the author had to set up a world and circumstances where he is at a disadvantage. So for any future reader, my advice is to have patience with the beginning of the book. A lot of introductions to the world have to be made in the beginning. And IMO, the middle and ending make it worth it

And I Darken by Kiersten White

Lada loves the land she was born and grew up in. Unfortunately, she and her brother Radu are sent to the Ottoman court as hostages. While Lada longs to go back to her beloved land of Wallachia, Radu wants to stay . Further complicating matters is Lada’s relationship with the Sultan’s son Mehmed.

This is a pretty dark and mature book. While there’s no explicit sex here, it pretty much deals with really mature themes. While I’m not that invested in Lada and Mehmed’s relationship, I do enjoy the world-building.

I honestly have mixed feelings about the characters. I think they’re interesting. But I really don’t like them LOL

I’m 99% sure that their decisions will eventually lead to tragedy. And having sequels is basically more opportunities for them to get even darker.

But for those who are tired of the usual tough girl with a heart of gold main character, you might enjoy this book. Lada is definitely not a character with a heart of gold. She knows what she wants. And she has prioritized them. And makes no apologies for it.

The main character in this book are not really likeable (but that’s just my opinion). However, I can say that their choices are definitely not boring ones that you’ve seen in other YA novels. So anyone who wants something edgy, dark and different from the usual YA fare. This is for you

And Yes, this book is an alternate historical fiction wherein Vlad the Impaler was born as Lada. At first, I found it offputting and thought it was simply the author’s way of pairing her with Mehmed. But it’s been really entertaining for me. LOL

The Diabolic by SJ Kincaid

Nemesis is genetically engineered to fight for and protect Sidonia, the daughter of a high-ranking Senator in the outs with the Emperor. When the Emperor orders Sidonia to the capital, Sidonia’s mother sends Nemesis (posing as Sidonia) instead.

For a book with a character whose main trait is her martial ability, this book focuses more on the political side of the story. But it does make sense in context. Nemesis has to pose as Sidonia in the midst of a deadly and decadent court that would kill her and Sidonia’s entire family should her deception be found out.

So any attempts to undermine enemies will have to be the (metaphorical) backhanded way. Unless Nemesis is confident that she can get away with using physical force.

Let me just reiterate how much I love this book. Romance, action and intrigue in a space opera setting? YUP! It’s everything I love rolled in one book!

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Gen is a thief skilled enough to steal the King’s Seal from the palace. But apparently, stupid enough to brag about it to anyone who would listen. This lands him in the dungeons until the King’s advisor gets him out in exchange for help with stealing a supposedly mythical object. One that could help the Kingdom of Sounis conquer the neighboring Kingdoms of Eddas and Attolia.

This is a must read first book to a great series. I really love it because of how I cannot pigeonhole the characters. I start out the book thinking I know these characters. And then they go and do things I never expect them to do. And it just makes me love them more.

This is a book that must be read until the end to be truly appreciated. So if by any chance you weren’t too fond of the book’s beginning, you must read it until the end or else miss the whole point and appeal of this book.

And if by any chance, you didn’t like the first book. I still think you have to continue with the next book. Because you are definitely missing out if you don’t

Leave a Reply