The first two thirds of “The Royal Succession” work in much the same way as the first three books in this series, even bringing some focus back onto the financial aspects more present in the first book. Then when the many story threads start to converge, most notably Guccio and Marie’s (who were the highlight of the last book for me, in their much more standalone story), the book takes a jarring but well-earned turn that left me surprised and much more acutely aware of the inhumanity on display in this period of history, in a way that the more distant and cerebral first three books did.
The inhumanity of an action in the third act is described so viscerally and matter-of-factly that it felt to me like the series shifted tone, not just for future books in the series, but retroactively too. As a character muses in the penultimate chapter, “Is human nature really so detestable, or is it royalty which makes us like this?”. Were the characters of the series always capable of such inhumanity?
It’s not just that one incident that makes the third act of the book feel much more cynical and dark than the rest of the series (so far). My favourite subplot ends, definitively I’m assuming, in tears. The ridiculous intricacies of the right of succession as it stood back then are tore into. The last chapter leans hard on juxtaposing the sacred symbols of nobility (and family itself to an extent) with their inhumanity in a way that feels a cynical (and very well-earned declarative statement – apparently the next few books in the series are meant to feel in some ways like a distinct “second series”, so this book finishing on such a strong, declaratory note makes sense.
“The Royal Succession” is a tragedy in a way the first three books weren’t, but one that makes those earlier books all the more powerful in context. While I’m very keen to see what happens next, this book ends on a strong enough note that I’d have been happy with the series ending here. I give it four bells, and a (now vindicating) curse.