It’s hard to know where to start this review. On the one hand, I enjoyed the series as a whole and could never have skipped Twisted Palace. Unfortunately, this instalment – after all the double crosses, angst, murders and red herrings – was anticlimactic. As usual, the story entertains and I raced through it to get to the conclusion, but it just isn’t as strong as the two novels that precede it. Where the previous books felt a bit frantic, this one quickly loses steam. Co-authors Jen Frederick and Elle Kennedy (Erin Watt) try to please fans by focusing on Ella and Reed, while wrapping up all the intrigues in their lives, but they ultimately fail to satisfy on either level. A quick note to readers – if you haven’t read Paper Princess or Broken Prince, Twisted Palace won’t make sense to you – the books need to be read in order. Also, fair warning: I can’t avoid spoilers related to Paper Princess or Broken Prince in this review – so if you are planning to read the series, you should stop reading here. But if you’ve read the first two, carry on; no Twisted Palace spoilers are included in this review.
As devoted readers of the Royals series know, when Broken Prince concluded, the Royal world was falling apart. Though Ella and Reed are finally together and seemingly ready for their happily ever after, the authors barely pause before they shake things up and then abruptly end the book. Callum’s fiancée (and Reed’s former lover) Brooke – and her unborn child (we still aren’t sure who the dad is) – are dead, Reed is under arrest for their murder, and Steve Halloran – Ella’s deceased father – is alive. Twisted Palace picks up as Ella frantically tries to figure out how to help Reed and deal with her father’s sudden reappearance. After the opening chapters, I was all in – but then the whole thing abruptly stalls. That’s all this book is ever really about; Reed is accused of murder and Steve is back. With all that potential, I kept expecting additional plot lines and betrayals to evolve, but they never did.
Instead of a quest to clear Reed’s name, Twisted Palace focuses on the emotional and physical relationship between Ella and Reed after he’s arrested, and her frustrating (and ridiculously silly) relationship with her dad. There’s very little attention paid to trying to find the true killer (Reed adamantly denies having anything to do with the murder, though all evidence points to him), or understanding where Steve’s been for the past year – even though earlier books alluded to someone trying to kill him. In both Paper Princess and Broken Prince, the relationship between Ella and Reed is a highlight, and it is in this one as well, but with Reed facing a murder charge it’s also slightly ridiculous. Whether or not Ella has sex with Reed seems a fairly minor concern when he’s facing life in prison.
When Ella and Reed met, she was an outsider forced on Reed and his siblings by their overbearing father, Callum. Paper Princess was largely about Ella’s struggles to be accepted by the Royal family, the kids at Astor Park Prep Academy, and her feelings for Reed. By the end of the book, they’d fallen in love but discovering Reed in bed with Brooke devastated Ella. Broken Prince opens with Ella and Reed at odds – she’s on the run from the Royal family for a large part of it, and when she does return, Reed works hard to explain his (former) relationship with Brooke and to win Ella back. Though they’re together at the end of the book, readers didn’t really get a good chance to know them as a couple. Watt rectifies that in Twisted Palace, but it’s too late. It was great to see them together; their love is intense, affectionate and passionate, more so than most YA I’ve read. But the focus on their relationship is overshadowed by the possible murder conviction hanging over Reed’s head. Reading about Ella’s machinations to lose her virginity, joining the dance team, and the Astor Park Winter Formal… well, it felt ridiculous and silly. I couldn’t decide if their teenage naïveté about prison was appropriate to YA – or totally out of sync with the emotional and physical maturity Watt developed in this series or their story arc.
The other major storyline in Twisted Palace focuses on Steve Halloran. In previous books he was depicted as a great guy – godfather to the Royal boys and best friend to Callum. When he reappears in Broken Prince we don’t know what to expect – and the authors fail to deliver on the promise of his mysterious disappearance. It turns out that Steve is kind of an immature and selfish jerk and Ella struggles to establish a relationship with him. He immediately seeks to separate her from Reed and his brothers, and sets out rules and expectations for Ella to conform to. He’s hostile to his wife, Dinah – and though he eventually explains why, Ella finds herself disliking him nearly as much as she dislikes her stepmother. Steve has a pivotal role in the resolution of Twisted Palace, but we never really get to know this character and everything related to him is so over the top, it just never rings true. I had such high expectations for this character and the story behind how he disappeared and well… We never learn much more about his disappearance or why he is considered such a great guy by the Royal family. By the end of the novel, he’s a caricature of the man alluded to in the previous books.
What Twisted Palace should be about – the search for a killer and/or proof of Reed’s innocence – is essentially background noise to the relationships between Ella and Reed, and Ella and Steve. The revelation of ‘who killed Brooke’ and why, comes on the heels of another surprise reveal (that wasn’t so surprising to this reader), and after all the build-up to this point, it just wasn’t exciting or all that shocking. The scene in which Ella realizes who the killer is, and then finds herself threatened, is so brief and overly dramatic, the authors barely give us enough time to be worried for her. They tie up a few other outstanding storylines (including the relationship between Val and Wade, the blackmail relationship between Dinah and Gideon, the identity of Brooke’s baby daddy) almost as an afterthought. Everything about Twisted Palace is resolved so handily, it almost felt like the last few chapters were written by another author.
I wanted to love Twisted Palace but it failed to deliver on the promise of the first two books. The pacing is slow, the emotional and physical relationship between Ella and Reed is inconsistent (are they teenagers or adults?), and once compelling storylines are resolved as if the authors just wanted to wrap the whole thing up. As a series, Erin Watt has crafted a compelling story that gets almost everything right; I give the series a solid B, maybe a B+. On its own, Twisted Palace isn’t bad – but in comparison to books one and two, it’s just solidly average. Based on the tease the authors give us of Reed’s younger brother Easton (and his mysterious lady love), I think there might be another Royals series to come and I hope so. These Royals did ruin me; I’ll miss them.