The Cadet of Tildor by Alex Lidell – Review

Cadet of Tildor

Book Jacket:

Tamora Pierce meets George R. R. Martin in this smart, political, medieval fantasy-thriller.

There is a new king on the throne of Tildor. Currents of political unrest sweep the country as two warring crime families seek power, angling to exploit the young Crown’s inexperience. At the Academy of Tildor, the training ground for elite soldiers, Cadet Renee de Winter struggles to keep up with her male peers. But when her mentor, a notorious commander recalled from active duty to teach at the Academy, is kidnapped to fight in illegal gladiator games, Renee and her best friend Alec find themselves thrust into a world rife with crime, sorting through a maze of political intrigue, and struggling to resolve what they want, what is legal, and what is right.

You can read an excerpt here.


Oh, how I wish the publisher had foregone that lofty marketing copy, because how on earth does a book live up to that? Tamora Pierce AND George R.R. Martin? Really, that’s just mean. But here’s the good news – selling strategy aside, while this book may not play on the same field as those fantasy titans, it does make for a downright enjoyable read.

Now to be fair, I’ll admit I’m a sucker for exactly this type of story – a girl who struggles and sweats to earn her mad fighting skills warms the cockles of any Tamora Pierce fan’s heart – but I also really enjoyed how Lidell took that fantasy staple and made it her own. Renee’s world is downright fascinating, particularly when it comes to the politics, the warring crime families, and the ever-shifting balance of power in the kingdom, and I loved watching Renee’s myopic view of the world, defined by her school’s walls and rules, slowly expand, as she starts to stumble her way onto the larger world stage. Lidell perfectly captures that transition, that first trembling moment of disillusionment when Renee realizes that the old rules no longer apply, that hard work and honor don’t always pay off, that what she thought she knew she doesn’t know at all. It made for a wonderful coming of age story, and Renee’s mistakes and perseverance made for a wonderful heroine.

As for Savoy, Renee’s teacher and the other major character of this book – while he might have strayed a bit into stereotypical bad-ass territory, I particularly enjoyed the somewhat ambiguous nature of his relationship with Renee. I really liked (and appreciated) how this story touched on the idea of hero worship, and the power a mentor can have – and to be frank, I massively enjoyed the lack of romantic overtones between the two of them (I think that kind of thing between teachers and students is just hinky). And while it’s not like Lidell slammed the door shut on things going that way down the pike, I do find myself rather hoping they don’t go that way at all, because I was digging the brother/sister/family vibe that had sprung up between them by the end. We just don’t get enough of that in YA, period.

But all that is not to say this story is perfect, because it’s not. To be frank I thought towards the middle this story came a bit undone, particular in terms of plot and emotion. With the plot, well, it stalled – we had our heroine basically stuck in a room for a long stretch, and that holding pattern quickly became frustrating – and as for the emotion, well, it kind of got lost in the wilderness. Now yes, I could tell the story was trying to use the down time to explore and complicate the Renee/Alec friendship, but it all just never seemed to coalesce in a clear or meaningful way – frankly I couldn’t really get a handle on what was going on in their heads, why they were acting and reacting the way they were, or what Lidell wanted us to be feeling about it all. It was like there was a short-circuit in that relationship story, and there I was waiting on the other end of the telegraph and getting no signal. All in all, the middle section of this story just lost momentum and kind of lost its way – but it never got to a point where I considered giving up on the story, and happily things revved back up before too much time had passed. And as for the ending, it worked and worked well.

So in the end, while not perfect, there is without doubt a heck of a lot to like about this book – secrets, battles, betrayals, rescues, coming of age – and Lidell brings real breadth and texture to her fantasy world. So yes, I am definitely on board for Renee’s next adventure.

Byrt Grade: A-

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Kirkus Reviews says:

A gripping debut embraces the trend toward gritty grim dark fantasy…Hints of romance, thankfully, take second place to friendship, trust and duty, not to mention looming war and imminent death.

The Book Smugglers say:

It is almost impossible to approach The Cadet of Tildor without sky-high expectations as it has been touted as a meeting of heavy-weight Fantasists Tamora Pierce and George R. R. Martin. To be honest, those expectations are not exactly fair considering this is a debut novel and as such appropriate adjustments are necessary – once this is done The Cadet of Tildor becomes a solid, enjoyable-if-flawed YA Fantasy.