Big and sweeping, spanning the refined palaces of Osfrid to the gold dust and untamed forests of Adoria, The Glittering Court tells the story of Adelaide, an Osfridian countess who poses as her servant to escape an arranged marriage and start a new life in Adoria, the New World. But to do that, she must join the Glittering Court. Both a school and a business venture, the Glittering Court is designed to transform impoverished girls into upper-class ladies capable of arranging powerful and wealthy marriages in the New World. Adelaide naturally excels in her training and even makes a few friends: the fiery former laundress Tamsin and the beautiful Sirminican refugee Mira. She manages to keep her true identity hidden from all but one: the intriguing Cedric Thorn, son of the wealthy proprietor of the Glittering Court. When Adelaide discovers that Cedric is hiding a dangerous secret of his own, together, they hatch a scheme to make the best of Adelaide’s deception. Complications soon arise—first, as they cross the treacherous seas from Osfrid to Adoria, and later, when Adelaide catches the attention of a powerful governor. But no complication will prove quite as daunting as the potent attraction simmering between Adelaide and Cedric. An attraction that, if acted on, would scandalize the Glittering Court and make them both outcasts in wild, vastly uncharted lands. . . .
The Glittering Court takes place across many settings – from the courts of Osfrid (which can be compared to British aristocracy), the finishing school of Glittering Court, the journey across the seas to the New World (which is sort of like the American colonial invasions), to the frontiers of the New World. A countess, she assumes the identity of her maid Adelaide to escape her dreary old life and find a new place for herself in the world. Her ally is Cedric, who kept her secret and they form a friendship, one which she feels indebted to, and wants to help out in. The finishing school is for commoners, and is a bride-selling business in the New World, so if Adelaide gets a top match, she can help Cedric with a higher commission. He also has his reasons for escaping to the New World, but their plans are unraveled by the pesky thing called love, which they soon realize for each other. Unfortunately, she is bound by contract and he tries to buy her out of it, but it will take supreme cunning and enterprise, and hard work on both their parts. Lurking around is the Governor’s son who wants Adelaide for himself, and all of this set on religious setting of differing faiths and intolerance.
Adelaide, at first, seemed very flighty and foolish, for embarking on a spontaneously conceived plan of donning a new identity and going off. But soon, I realized that she is bold and brave – out to make her own path than agree to the one set out for her. Throughout the book, she, when presented with obstacles, saves the day with her ingenuity and smarts. Cedric, for his part, was the more impetuous one, who walks a dangerous line between expressing religious freedom and throwing caution to the wind. The finishing school business seemed a legitimate thing, despite my initial concerns to the opposite. It was a money-making venture, with Cedric’s father being mostly the shrewd one – but an honest business nonetheless. No, the problems arise when he tries to get her out of the contract by buying her in marriage so that she doesn’t have to be carted off back to her old world.
Between the lack of freedom for women, the religious intolerance, and the racism, the book has a definite religious vibe, which is made further obvious in the second half when there is the good old frontierland plot playing out. I was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, because by this time I was so invested in Cedric and Adelaide, and the plot got only more complicated as it raced towards the ending. That ending came a bit out of left field, with only one clue given somewhere earlier that those events would be relevant. Nevertheless, this starting book of the series definitely packed a punch, and I hope for even better things in the books to follow.