The Schemes Of The Slighted (The Adventures Of Hayden And Nikki #2), by Adrianna Lockhart
[Note: This book was given to me free of charge by the author. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
Those readers who have read my review of the first book in this series  will know how glowing a review I gave of a book written by a very young author. One of the things that struck me about the first novel is even more true in this longer sequel, longer to the point of being nearly 400 pages, and that is the way that the author is wise beyond her years when it comes to conveying the pressures faced by her characters, including the intense pressure for marriage and how it hinders our abilities to enjoy company with others, and the dangers of obsessive love for attractive redheads. This is a surprisingly mature novel for a young person, someone who has clearly read about matters of love and politics since very early in life. This is more than a work of imitation, but rather the work of someone internalizing what they have read and putting in fiction what has been the case all too often in real life, intrigue and murder and the like . As a result, this book is quite an achievement, full of intrigue and well-drawn characters with complex motivations and histories.
Like its predecessor, this novel is divided into roughly equal POV chapters between Prince Hayden and Nikki, and this time the story is considerably complicated by the web of intrigue going on all around them. The characters in this novel are not Mary Sues (or their male equivalents) who can do anything, but are rather rounded characters with their own vulnerabilities and complexities, and this novel ramps up the complexity of the small world of the elites of Calhoun by showing generational patterns and by providing a character with a chance at redemption that he fails miserably at. The result is a complicated story of loss and plotting and counterplotting with a few worthy surprises that test the nobility of the main characters and provide opportunities for shy courtship as well as bravery. And if there is not a cliffhanger at the end of this novel like there was at the end of the first one, there is still unfinished business and a solid basis for a third novel in the series if the author feels up to it. Reading the acknowledgements section after the novel, it seems as if the author was struggling with a serious case of writer’s block, but it is good for her (and for the reader) that she was able to overcome it in writing this impressive novel.
There are some novels that are easy to understand by virtue of their titles, and this novel is clearly one that can be understood well by virtue of its title. There are schemes of all kind in this novel as virtually everyone has some kind of plot, whether that is Agnes’ hopeless romantic plot for the noble and handsome Theodore, or whether it is the plots of Hayden to escape imprisonment or of Nikki to rescue him or even his repugnant uncle, as well as of Sir Connor, Nicole’s grandfather, to rally the loyal soldiers of Hayden’s grandfather to restore the true heir to the throne and to ease the conflicts that had been going on over power. The novel raises the stakes as well by showing that the politics of a neighboring realm are in play as well where Hayden’s repulsive tutor Erik is one of the royal family there. This is the sort of novel that reflects a young woman reflecting on fellow young people in danger and the struggle to overcome temptation of several kinds and show kindness even to one’s enemies, even in the face of a great deal of hostility and enmity. This is a worthy novel of the kind, like its predecessor, that anyone should enjoy reading if they like historical fiction and fantasy without magic, and that any young person should feel inspired by if they feel have the writing bug themselves. As is often the case, I feel honored to read and enjoy this novel, and to ponder its own applicability even for someone like myself.
I would like to comment a bit here in closing on a couple of specific aspects of this book that I think worthy of additional commentary. For one, this book continues the striking gender reversals of the original novel to an even greater degree, although it features some who resent Nikki’s impetuous bravery and desire to live up to the standard of her immensely capable grandfather, who himself attracts some resentment from nominal allies. Hayden, far from being a heroic prince, gets injured at the beginning of the book and is told to stay out of battle and is too afraid of heights to escape his tower prison, serving as a character who has to be rescued, and whose most heroic act is a renunciation of the throne he had been raised to believe was his inheritance upon finding out he had an older brother. This is a striking reversal of expectations, to put it mildly. The other comment I have is that if this novel is ever adapted to another medium, the adaptation would need to rework some of the material as the climactic battle where the army supporting the protagonists defeats the army of the usurper and his ally is not shown because one of the protagonists is stuck inside the tower nursing his wounds from a failed escape attempt at the beginning of the novel and the other nearly dies of drowning after a failed attempt to save the usurper. In retrospect, the move appears strikingly similar to what was done in the novel the Hobbit, where Bilbo Baggins is knocked unconscious and misses the battle, but obviously in an adaptation the battle would have to be worked out in more detail. It is to the author’s credit that she is able to overcome what might be an unsurprising technical problem for a peaceful young woman in not desiring to write grisly battle scenes, an entirely understandable reluctance. At any rate, these observations are merely meant to come from someone with a high degree of intellectual interest in literary criticism, and are not meant as negative comments on this work itself. Indeed, I would hope that the fact that this book can be spoken of in such fashion and in such depth ought to be a sign that this is a novel worth taking seriously, as indeed it is.
 See, for example: