by Sara B. Larson
Release Date: January 7, 2014
Rating: 2.5/3 stars
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?
When this book first popped up on my radar, I was psyched. A girl masquerading as a boy to serve in the army? It's reminiscent of Alanna from the Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce! How can that not be fantastic. Well...this book found the way.
Writing this review is hard. I have such mixed emotions about it that this is my 4th review of it. The book started and ended strong. Although the plot was rather simplistic, it was good and I was intrigued. However, this simple plot coupled with a not-so-great romance and repetitiveness for a good 50% of the book led to disappointment.
Before I really delve into my breakdown of this book, I want to say this: I didn't hate the book, but nor did I love it. When I first started reading I was engaged. The middle dragged but was redeemed towards the end. When I first finished it, I only disliked the romance. However, as I stewed over this book, I realized it was lackluster.
Look, this book had potential. It had all the ingredients there to make it an epic fantasy. But, it’s almost as if, instead of using the regular ingredients the recipe called for, this book consisted of the knock-off cheaper brands.
See, oftentimes, the knock-offs are okay, but they are usually coupled with the real deal so that you save money, but get all/most of the flavor. Same goes for a book. Even if some of the ingredients aren't the "best" ingredients, it doesn't necessarily take away from the final product. I can like a book with a sweeping and engaging plot and world, even if I’m not wholly in love with the characters just as I can take a more simple, mediocre plot line if the characters are fleshed out and real. But, with all of them together? Not so much.
You see, I went into this book thinking I wasn’t going to love the romance (though hoping I’d be the odd ball out) because of all the negative reviews. However, I thought this would be a sweeping epic fantasy. Unfortunatley, not only was I not 100% on board with the romance, the plot wasn’t super exciting either. This book is more of a romance book rather than a fantasy book.
The more I write this review, the more I realize how jumbled my thoughts actually are. So, in hopes of clarifying, I've broken down the two things that created a lackluster performance.
1. The romance:
- How Alexa reacts: In the beginning of the book, Alex is a strong character, She’s fierce and determined, characteristics I can admire. I was rooting for her. But come to 2nd and 3rd quarters of the book, and it’s completely different. She can’t hide her emotions, she cries to much, and if she blushed one more time I was going to smack her upside the head. Once you get about 30% of the way through the book, the next 50% is repetitive thoughts of her saying she thinks Damian is a jerk but his eyes tell a different story while also worrying about Rylan’s feelings for her.
- For one, shouldn’t Alexa be used to suppressing her emotions and putting on a mask of indifference by now? She’s been surrounded by men for 3 years! Even if she may not have been romantically interested in them, she had to at least thought one of them was hot. And because of this she learned to not let it show. Therefore, she should be able to hide her emotions better when Damian is around instead of blushing and crying and all that. Grant it, she does hide it to an extent, but she definitely lets down her guard more than her character at the beginning would suggest.
- She’s a soldier for crying out loud. Duty and country first. She would say this all the time, yet she kept thinking more about Damian and trying to figure him out than strategizing about how to get them out of their situations.
- Rylan was pointless. Or so I thought. Rylan was not a fleshed out character and was your stock friendzoned guy. He was really there just to add a bit of tension because Alex didn’t want to hurt his feelings. However, it was clear from the beginning who she chose. So, as I said, pointless…until the end. Let me say this: this book could’ve been a standalone, wrapped up nicely with a conclusive ending (honestly I have no idea where the plot is going after this). Spoiler: So…even though Damian wanted to marry her, now she decides to put duty first? Oh, real convenient. Guess you just laid the foundation for book 2. End spoiler
- One good thing – I actually kind of liked Damian. Look, he was kind of a jerk, but at least he had good reasoning. At least I can understand why. Honestly, he was probably the most fleshed out of all the characters.
- Honestly, the plot was somewhat engaging and interesting. What is lacked was the emotional connection. Meaning, I should've been gasping, crying, laughing, or something while reading. Instead I was just sitting there enjoying it, but not engaged by it.
- I felt as if things were solved too easily.
- Lackluster world building. Often time this isn't a huge issue with me, but it became more noticeable because there was no other aspect of this book that could distract me from it. I literally know next to nothing about this world besides the fact that there are three countries, two are at war, one is a jungle and the other is barren. Um. Okay?
Oddly enough though, for all my complaining, I did enjoy it. Was it a phenomenal book that swept me off my feet? No. Was it at least interesting and worth reading? Yes. I think people who prefer romance and like a light fantasy or are new to the fantasy world would enjoy this.
I know this review is a bit of a contradiction (and repetative). When I look back at my review, I feel like all I did was talk about how bad it was. But honestly? I enjoyed it. I wasn't swept away by it, but I didn't want to throw it out the window either. I think if the plot was more complex, the worldbuilding explored more, and the characters fleshed out a bit more, it could've been amazing. As it was though, it was simply "alright". As I said, I think romance lovers and fantasy newbies would enjoy this book. For high/epic fantasy fans out there, I'd say skip it. You'll find your fantasy fix elsewhere.
So, will y'all be reading or skipping this one? If y'all have read it, what did you think? Agree or disagree? Be sure to let me know in the comments below!
All the best ♥