Autistic Book Party, Episode 39: Citadel of the Sky

Today’s Book: “Citadel of the Sky” by Chrysoula Tzavelas

The Plot: In a fantasy kingdom, a series of magical murders heralds the arrival of something even more sinister.

Autistic Character(s): The author.

“Citadel of the Sky” is set in a nation ruled by the Blood, a powerful magical family. The Blood are the kingdom’s mystical protectors, with magical powers that differ significantly from those of ordinary wizards.

One of those powers is the ability to enter the “phantasmagory” – a psychic realm which is like a collective unconsciousness made physical. Stray thoughts and emotions in the phantasmagory take surreal physical forms, and so do more important magical things. But a member of the Blood who enters the phantasmagory is completely oblivious to the outside world, and can’t leave again until they genuinely desire to. Older members of the royal family often develop a kind of dementia, spending more and more time in the phantasmagory, and becoming more and more confused when out of it.

This linking of royal blood to disability leads to some interesting worldbuilding, including a system in which each member of the Blood has their own “Regent” – a sworn servant who helps them with everyday tasks. (Right now I am all about the idea of caretaking as a service, rather than a form of authority, so I really liked the Regents.) It also means that, aside from magical threats, many everyday affairs of state are carried out by a different group of nobles – a group which is happy, overtly or covertly, to seize power from the inattentive Blood.

As well as the fictional disability of the phantasmagory, both of “Citadel of the Sky”‘s viewpoint characters are non-neurotypical in ways that more closely parallel the real world. Princess Tiana is young, scattered, impulsive, and likely has a form of attention deficit. Kiar, her bastard cousin, is more focused and serious – but also has intense social anxiety.

The challenge of writing a protagonist like Tiana is that the plot has to stay focused and forward-moving, even when the protagonist isn’t. Tzavelas doesn’t always rise perfectly to this challenge. Although many exciting things happen, the pacing often feels slightly off, as if the characters are making scattershot and separate responses to each event rather than having their own throughline.

I should also warn, for readers who are allergic to such things, that “Citadel of the Sky” is the first in a five-book series, and its ending resolves very little.

Still, at its best, “Citadel of the Sky” is a fun and surreal epic fantasy in which non-neurotypical women get to be princesses and chosen ones. That is a kind of story that we definitely need more of!

The Verdict: Recommended-2

Ethics Statement: I have never interacted with Chrysoula Tzavelas. I read her book by buying an e-copy for my Kindle app. All opinions expressed here are my own.

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For a list of past/future/possible Autistic Book Party books, click here.