Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Royal Court Dramas

I’m currently reading THE THRONE OF THE FIVE WINDS, an East-Asian inspired royal court drama.  It’s reminded me once again, how much I love this subgenre.  I love reading a book where being sent a dress in a certain color by another can be as deadly for your long-term future as an assassination attempt.  Where rivals snipe at each other with backhanded compliments and where every ball attended, every fan snapped open is a move in a larger chess game.  So I decided for this Top Ten Tuesday, I would round up some of my favorite examples, from fantasy to sci-fi, YA to adult.  These are books where political maneuvering at court is just as, if not more important, than the action.  Even with ten, I’m sure I’m forgetting books I’ve read and loved, so be sure to share with me some of your favorites!

Covers link to Goodreads!

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I love that I can say that this is two kinds of court drama: royal and legal.  A young princess assumes the throne after her father dies, but she is convinced that there was foul play involved in his death.  Which means at a certain point, it’s time for a murder trial!  This is the kind of book where a young ruler learns the harsh reality that just because she’s empress, doesn’t mean she gets her way.  She has to balance the demands of the people vs. the demands of power political figures at court, and rival countries who seek to invade.

This is a big sprawling family epic that, between the two books (a third is on the way), takes place over decades as rebellions happen and new characters come to power.  THE GRACE OF KINGS, while leaning heavy on a war story, also acknowledges the importance of rallying the people to your side.  But THE WALL OF STORMS is focused on the aftermath, when certain characters have assumed the throne, and now must contend with which child shall be named successor, and debate if the political allies you made in the time of war are the right ones during a time of peace.

Jumping out of fantasy into space!  These books are plenty action-packed, but there’s also plenty of political maneuvering in the royal court spread throughout the tale. Hail Bristol left home at 18 and spent 20 years working as a gun-runner in the seedy underbelly of the empire.  But she didn’t leave just any home – she was the third princess to the royal family, and when assassinations kill her sisters, she’s left next in line to the throne.  Hail is dragged back to the royal court to re-acclimate herself to family politics and alliances, and find out who is behind the assassinations before she’s the next victim.

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CROWN DUEL and COURT DUEL by Sherwood Smith
This is probably the earliest instance of when I fell in love with this sub-genre.  This duology (more frequently sold as a bundled novel these days) focuses on a countess who leads a rebellion against a tyrannical king.  My favorite part is not the rebellion of the first half of the story, but the second half, when Meliara has to navigate the newly reformed court and the machinations of its nobles.  Most importantly, court life in these books featured a secret “language” of fans, where the way you unfolded or waved your fan added a layer of subtext to your words, and following that subtext was key to keeping up with what was happening at court.  I LOVED this aspect of the story.

GAME OF THRONES by George R.R. Martin
Love it or hate it, you can’t deny that this series has been THE defining court drama of the last few decades.  Yes, there’s dragons and wars and weird creatures from the icy north, but there’s also a lot of jockeying among the various families for political power, and they get it anyway they can, from controlling the royal purse strings to outright executions.  Entire fates hinge on who’s in power in the throne room, not just on the battlefield.

POISON STUDY by Maria V. Snyder
Originally a trilogy, this series started out with the premise of a condemned woman being offered a choice: she can be executed as intended, or she can agree to be trained as the royal taster.  She’ll live a life of luxury, but live with the constant risk of intercepting a poisoned dish meant for the ruler.  And it’s a legitimate risk – the position didn’t open up to a new applicant because the previous taster simply retired.  Yelena accepts the position, and now must navigate rebel plots and other intrigues at court as she tries to stay alive.

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An Asian-inspired retelling of Snow White, but this time from the perspective of the woman who will one day be the “Evil Queen.”  Xifeng is a common woman who arrives at the imperial court, and through various machinations and magic, eventually becomes the empress.  It’s a struggle for her – she has to contend with the current queen and her own lowly position, maneuvering and sacrificing to gain the power she craves.

MISTBORN by Brandon Sanderson
In the first book in this series, there’s just at much at risk at the various balls held by the nobility as there is in the fights that happen at night over rooftops. And once our heroes have come to power, they’ll have to forge alliances to keep it – especially if they want to enact reforms to prevent a tyrant from ever gaining power in the future.  Another series here to remind you that winning on the battlefield doesn’t mean the war is over at home. (But also, LOTS of cool fighting on rooftops!)

CITY OF LIES by Sam Hawke
This tale takes almost entirely in city under siege, contending with a disturbing recent development – someone just poisoned and killed the city’s ruler, and might be out to get his son next. This leaves the prince’s poison taster and his sister, a royal spy, with a ticking clock to figure out who is sabotaging the city, before the city itself collapses from the outside invasion. This is a wonderful murder mystery with two protagonists who have to cope with their own handicaps (one has an infirm body, the other struggles with a spiraling form of OCD) as they struggle to unweave the politics that threaten the life of their friend and ruler.

THE DIABOLIC by S.J. Kincaid
I recently re-read this YA sci-fi novel and was delighted that it was as deadly and thrilling as I remembered.  In the far flung future, the heir to a noble house is summoned to the imperial court, but the family makes the choice to send her bodyguard instead.  Nemesis, a genetically engineered humanoid, has to quickly brush up on court etiquette so that she can impersonate her protectee. Once at court, Nemesis tries to keep her head down and out of the limelight, but growing seeds of rebellion draw her into a web of intrigue that might kill her if she can’t learn the rules of the game.

Those are my favorites – which ones am I missing?

12 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Royal Court Dramas

Add yours

      1. I binged the 6 main books so they’re a little bit of a blurr but the characters are still one of my favs otps. I dont reread books but thats definitely a series Id consider rereading.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Love this list! Descendant of the Crane, Mistborn, The Grace of Kings and Behind the Throne are all on my TBR. I enjoyed Poison Study when I read it, around 5 or 6 years ago now, but I never continued with the series. I might have to try picking it up again!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just added literally every single one of these to my TBR. It’s a sub-genre I love but that I haven’t actually read much of.

    If this is the kind of thing you enjoy, I think you’re going to love The Tethered Mage and the rest of the Swords and Fire books. Lots of political balls to attend as well as shady courtly plots and intrigue.

    Liked by 1 person

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