A girl is reprieved from her death sentence and instead is sentenced to be the ruling commander’s food taster. She undergoes training and undertakes a huge adventure, etc, etc.
I liked this book. But it’s a careful like.
First of all, I’m glad it’s not marketed as YA. It could be- the main character is 19- but I’m glad it’s not. It’s too charged. Too much sexual violence.
Secondly, it was set in a weird time period. I understand this is not our world (although it is close- inhabited by humans, Earth animals, etc, etc), but there seems to be a strange mix of jargon. It has a very medieval feel to it- the girl lives in a castle, there are dungeons, chains, dank straw, festivals, no electricity… But at the same time, she often refers to her “backpack” (not a satchel or a bag) and carries a switchblade. One guy is often seen holding a “file folder.” Huh? There’s also a very medieval view of sex: men always seem to be taking advantage of women (whose rights are just beginning to emerge), and there’s that whole “roll in the hay,” vibe.
Third, there’s this strange mixture of (again) medieval times and modern ideas or sensibilities. It reminds me of the women in Kristin Cashore’s books who “take the herbs to prevent pregnancy” before (or after?) sex- medieval birth control! Although there is no medieval birth control in this book, there is a character who feels like she was a man born in a woman’s body: a VERY current idea.
Again- those aren’t things that I dislike, necessarily. They just made it uncomfortable to read.
What did I like about this book? I liked the main character. She is appropriately nervous and not too in control, which is refreshing. It’s a joy to watch her grow and gain better control of her situation and her powers. I really really like her character arc- she becomes a stronger person throughout the telling of the story and it’s fun to watch. She’s also very well-rounded, with a good backstory and well-developed personality.
I also liked the fast-paced plot. It was well-written and intriguing. There were a couple of good twists and a few well-planted hints at upcoming twists. I liked the people I was supposed to like and really really hated the people I was supposed to hate. I was appropriately suspicious about the right things and never felt like the author was trying to fool me just for the purpose of fooling me, which is something I hate.
The male romantic lead is appropriately dangerous, although if I were Yelena I might fall for Janko or Ari- I hope they figure more into upcoming books. I just had him pegged at such an older age when I first met him that I couldn’t think of him as romantic for a long time. I still have a hard time seeing how exactly the romance came together. He remained too fatherly for in my head, even when professing his love.
The storyline was interesting, as was the take on magic- I like the blanket analogy. The politics were a little weird. As an American, it’s strange to see a military state as the preferable government. There is no clear black-and-white, good-or-bad view on the government expressed in the book so it’s hard to see Valek (the commander’s right hand man) as doing something for the world’s greater good. Maybe if that were the case, I would like him more.
All in all, I liked it, but maybe not enough to read the second one. If I did it would be to continue seeing this strange world through Yelena’s eyes and to continue watching her journey, not because I’m interested in the politics of the world or the romance.
3 out of 5 stars