As a countess whose fortune is dwindling, Adelaide is in much the same position as her poverty-stricken counterparts. Her grandmother hopes to marry her off to a wealthy noble, regardless of whether they are compatible. In an effort to control her own destiny, Adelaide replaces her maid, Ada, in the group of women destined for The Glittering Court in order to avoid a loveless marriage. That decision sends her into a year of etiquette, cultural, and household training, followed by a voyage across a treacherous ocean.
Adelaide's deception is a mixed blessing. She discovers new friendships with Tamsin and Mira, both of whom have secrets that could unravel their new lives. Upon arrival in Adoria, Adelaide attracts the attention of a newly-appointed governor of Hadisen who sees it as "imperative...[to] have an exemplary wife" (163). Warren is adamant that he must "seal the marriage contract" (164) upon Adelaide's arrival, and he immediately offers "One thousand gold if you do the deal right now" (164).
Yet, this novel is so much more than fantasy or love story. The story delves into religious persecution, racial prejudice, class discrimination, land rights, a refugee crisis, and sexism. These subjects are all addressed in an engaging narrative with characters who demand my allegiance and empathy. As Adelaide finds her voice and autonomy, she identifies her own goals and desires, independent of her friends and family. I found myself questioning the colonization of America, the rise of feminism, and the dreams of settlers who were courageous enough to venture into the wilderness. For Cedric, I admire his determination and faith, despite the ridicule and danger that they invite. Tamsin's letter-writing to her family and friends endears her to me; while she may be obstinate and single-minded, her heart is always her guide. The most mysterious character for me is Mira, the Sirminican refugee, for she is an outsider. Yet, she does not allow the continual prejudice and ridicule hurled at her to defeat or alter her. As in all great chronicles, the antagonists are concealed in positions of power and privilege.
Richelle Mead's The Glittering Court offers schemes, treachery, intrigue, scandal, and complications. The first person point-of-view had me applauding Adelaide's triumphs and examining each decision that she made. I was invested in her happiness even though her life is so drastically different from my own. Mead creates a new obstacle or entanglement each time that I was sure that the resolution was near, each one plausible and compelling. For me, that is the mark of a true storyteller.