Friday, May 27, 2022

"Highland Court Chronicles: Almendra's Quest" by Farida Mestek--Fiction Review

Today, Obscurists, we’re plunging into a magical fantasy world where one young woman must step-up to save her kingdom—prophecy or no prophecy. We’re discussing Farida Mestek’s “Highland Court Chronicles: Almendra’s Quest.” 

Farida Mestek

***The Non-Spoiler part of this review***

What I love about this book:

I’m not giving away anything here that isn’t already in the sales copy synopsis on Kindle—but I like that the princess in this fairy tale with modern sensibilities isn’t content to just sit around and wait for her happily ever after. When Almendra is finally given a chance, she takes off from the enchanted castle on her own initiative to see what is wrong with the Prince, who the prophecy strongly suggests is supposed to be the one to save her. I like Almendra because she faces her problems head-on and accepts the consequences of her actions and shortcomings.

Mestek has a gift for whimsical locales that are typically equal parts charming as they are dangerous. While still at the enchanted castle early on, Mestek makes every place feel infused with magic, and even when the story moves to the Lowland kingdom, where magic is forbidden, magic still seems to slip in on every occasion.

I also liked the recurring lesson that decisions made in a moment of passion without forethought often have dire consequences, be that moment rage or panic. This sort of thing happens with protagonists and antagonists alike.

Also, as a sucker for dogs and really any cuddly-looking animal, I liked the animal companion aspect of this story that Almendra has with Woo.

What I don’t love about this book:

Speaking of Almendra and Woo, though, the nature of their relationship changes toward the end of the story in a way that would have pleased Ovid to no end. For me, though, my dog has seen me do many an unflattering thing, and now the idea that I might have to have a conversation with him one day about why I pick up so many objects off the ground with my feet—well, no thanks.

The shawlweavers as villains are certainly frightening enough, and motivation for power for its own sake is regrettably understandable, but that said, I don’t precisely get their bone-deep hatred for the high ladies. It’s the old they’re antagonistic because they’re antagonistic, self-fulfilling prophecy. 

This isn’t much of a complaint, but still, I found myself enjoying a lot of the early scenes in this book where Almendra and her Granny would but heads. You don’t quite get that in any other form through the middle to the end of the book. 

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***The Spoiler part of this review***
***Ye be warned to turn back now***

The quick and dirty synopsis:

Our story begins with Almendra, her ever faithful wolf companion Woo, and her Granny going about their lives as the only inhabitants of an enchanted castle—waiting for a prophecy to be fulfilled. Almendra hates being idle, waiting for some prince to come to rescue her and her magical kingdom. Her Granny insists that their enemies, the shawlweavers, must have laid a terrible curse on the Upper Kingdom, which is why it is shrinking, and all the people have disappeared. And for all they know, if Almendra tries to leave, it might strike her down too, and as the last High Lady of the Upper Kingdom, she is too precious to risk.

So they wait.

That is until a Messenger from the Lowland kingdom shows up and conspicuously fails to die when entering the castle grounds. The messenger informs Almendra and her Granny that the Prince hasn’t come because he has been poisoned.

Almendra then takes it upon herself that maybe the prophecy referred to her seeking him out and not the other way around. So after convincing her begrudging Granny of the necessity, Almendra takes a magical healing potion and ventures forth to save the Prince alongside the messenger that came to the fading Upper Kingdom.

On their adventures, Almendra discovers that not all of her people are gone; some were taken prisoner and used as slave labor. Almendra also discovers a shawlweaver plot that framed her mother, the last High Lady, blaming her for using her magic to summon a terrible monster, which is primarily why magic is forbidden in the Lowland Kingdom. 

It turns out that the Prince, supposedly destined to rescue Almendra, was being poisoned by none other than his mistress, who it turns out is a Shawlweaver, perfectly capable of magic and murder whenever it suited her. In a moment of fury, the mistress murders the Prince who did love her and not Almendra. Then she does what all shawlweavers tend to do—despite her loathing of being called one—she frames Almendra for her crimes.

Before Almendra can be executed by a belligerent crowd, she is saved by the Messenger and Woo. However, Almendra and Woo run into an enchanted web during their escape. But instead of falling prisoner to the Shawlweavers again, Almendra wakes up in the Halls of Eternity, where the former high ladies go, including Almendra’s mother. It turns out Woo wasn’t born a wolf but was a human that Almendra’s mother’s magic transformed into a wolf.

Since magic is now returning to the world, Almendra and the other High Ladies are free to return and restore the Upper Kingdom.


In my opinion, “Highland Court Chronicles: Almendra’s Quest” is a fun take on the fantasy trope of a princess locked away in a magical castle. Almendra isn’t content to be a passive figure in her own life, an object that is acted upon without taking any action herself.

That said, I appreciate the balance that Mestek strikes with her—she isn’t overly plucky, so self-confident she couldn’t conceive of failure. Almendra has doubts about herself, insecurities, and feelings of great loneliness, so it makes it all the more profound, to me at least, that she manages to overcome those feelings. To do what she needs to do because there is no one else to do it.

Even though Almendra feels the need to act—to leave the castle despite her Granny’s initial wishes—she shows that even if she isn’t aware of it yet, she will make a great leader one day. She listens to advice from others, often taking it to heart, but when needed, she acts decisively.

Parting thoughts:

Before I picked this book up, I didn’t know Farida Mestek was a Ukrainian writer—I just discovered it after I started reading her book when she pitched it during one of my opens. 

There have been a lot of words and ink spilled already on the subject, but I cannot imagine how terrible it must be right now in Ukraine, given the recent Russian invasion. Some people want to go on and on and on about how there are two sides to this conflict.

But there isn’t. This issue is black and white. With distant memories of a faded empire and dreams of somehow recapturing that lost moment in history, one bitter old man induced his nation to invade another sovereign nation.

Millions of lives have been irrevocably altered—a lot were lost—for nothing more than Putin’s vanity. The truth is self-evident, and history will not look back on this kindly.

I liked your book, Farida—please stay safe.

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