I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Goodreads: A lush and gorgeously written debut, packed with action, intrigue, and a thrilling love triangle.
Alexa Hollen is a fighter. Forced to disguise herself as a boy and serve in the king's army, Alex uses her quick wit and fierce sword-fighting skills to earn a spot on the elite prince's guard. But when a powerful sorcerer sneaks into the palace in the dead of night, even Alex, who is virtually unbeatable, can't prevent him from abducting her, her fellow guard and friend Rylan, and Prince Damian, taking them through the treacherous wilds of the jungle and deep into enemy territory.
The longer Alex is held captive with both Rylan and the prince, the more she realizes that she is not the only one who has been keeping dangerous secrets. And suddenly, after her own secret is revealed, Alex finds herself confronted with two men vying for her heart: the safe and steady Rylan, who has always cared for her, and the dark, intriguing Damian. With hidden foes lurking around every corner, is Alex strong enough to save herself and the kingdom she's sworn to protect?
I was mostly entertained by this book, even if I got very frustrated at times. I was on a road trip to a competition with my quintet when I was reading this, and needless to say THEY were entertained by my reactions. Anytime a book includes a line that says "The artery in my neck pounded beneath my skin, and I felt light-headed with shock" used as a romantic statement, it is hard not to share.
So...I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I think it's an interesting premise and with some work I could come to enjoy the series. On the otherhand....so much of it is cringeworthy and rather offensive.
I think part of my issue is that it was written in first person. This is not my favourite style of narration because it is so limiting, and because it so often isn't done well. For example, our main character Alexa often makes clear observations (or heavily insinuated ones) about people and how they appear to feel about her, but then she seems to become oblivious all of a sudden like she hasn't realized this. This is the author's way of showing us how the other characters feel, but because it is filtered through another character who apparently hasn't actually realized these things, it makes your main character seem really dumb. Or falsely humble. It was also frustrating because Alexa would constantly tell us how a character was acting very differently (particularly the prince) and that it was weird and out of character...but we never saw the characters act any other way, so it doesn't actually feel like the character is acting strangely.
I've mentioned on the blog before that world building and character development are the most important things for me. And simply put...this book doesn't have them. It puts every effort into having them, but it's all talk and no show. And the world building is the very bare bones. And actually a bit confusing - I definitely needed a lot more not only on the actual feel of the area (not just this is a jungle. This other country is a desert), but also the politics (the kind invaded this country and is invading the next? Why? Why should Alexa feel loyalty to this king if he technically just conquered her country? I mean then he's not really her king is he? I might have misunderstood some stuff, so maybe I just missed something as far as these questions go). And the whole breeding houses thing....I mean what?? In the book it's explained that women are sent to breeding houses where they are....forced to have children to build an army. I'm a little unclear as to what qualifies some women to go and some not since not everyone is in them...but more importantly uhhh....that seems like a really terrible way to build an army. I mean it does take more than a few years for a kid to become strong enough to fight in a war. And there's no explanation beyond that. It serves as nothing but a simple plot device, and I absolutely do not approve of using rape to simply say, oh those guys are bad. The guys who are in love with me also think they are bad, therefore they must be good guys. NOT OK. Also slut shaming. I don't feel like going into it, but it happened, and it's my biggest pet peeve. Ever.
Needless to say, I think my quintet was starting to think I had gone absolutely bonkers haha
I know this has pretty much been negative, but I will say that I did enjoy parts of the book. I will also say that Alexa's confusion on spending the past 4 years of her life as a boy, and then being seen as a girl felt very real. Her reactions and her place in how gender roles felt absolutely true. It changes how people react to you and after four years as a boy, I can imagine that would be confusing, as there is a social stigma to react and behave a certain way when you are a woman versus a man.
This is not the strongest debut I've ever seen, but I really do believe that this author has all the parts there to turn this series into something pretty good. I think she has potential as an author and I will be sticking around to see what happens in the next book.