First impressions: The rich detail of this world is captivating. I started reading thinking I'd just get through the first few pages, and ended up reading for a half hour.
Lasting impressions: This book stuck with me longer than I expected. Whether it was the level of detail or just good storytelling, I thought about this book whenever I wasn't reading it.
Conflicting impressions: The attention to detail also became tiresome. It slowed down the pace a lot, and felt unnecessary.
Overall impressions: This is one of those books when I wish I used half stars. The world here is complex and well developed, reading more like a historical than a fantasy. Other than the setting, there wasn't much I would characterize as fantasy. I mean, it's a made-up world, but there's no magic or unique creatures or abilities to be found. I couldn't tell if the author intended to create a unique political or social structure and just didn't succeed, or if she didn't have the energy to research an actual historical setting in which to place her story.
I didn't mind the setting - don't get me wrong. I wish it had contained some more unique elements other than names and a few social customs. I think that could have given this fantasy some more teeth. Instead it became a story about a princess who can't decide whether to marry for duty or love.
There is a lot of description in this book, which bogged down the narrative. For a reader like me, who tends to skim over descriptions anyway (I like to picture characters as their voices come to me), this wasn't overly bothersome. I did notice, though, that I was skimming through multiple pages of narrative just to get past the dry bits.
Alera holds the distinction of being the first character I can think of that I came to like less as the book went on. She starts out being a friendly, likeable girl, but starts to make some questionable choices that strained her credibility in my mind. She betrays friends, acts selfishly, and is determinedly mean to her suitor. Despite all this, I enjoyed being in her head and following her journey. She's acting out against a society that shows little regard for women, so I forgave some of her flaws.
All of the characters in the book are complex, though sometimes confusing. I loved London, Alera's bodyguard, whose loyalty also comes into question, but is by far the most enjoyable character to read. He's funny, snarky, and gruff. Alera's suitor and soon-to-be betrothed, Steldor, is an egotistical ladies man who starts off being hated and ended up growing on me. The fact that Alera despises him is enough for me not to like him, but I did find myself agreeing with him when he told her she made it worse by making herself miserable. She wallows in self-pity every time she's forced to be in his presence, when really he could be worse. Finally there's Narian, Alera's true love interest, who had dual ties to Alera's home country and the warring neighbor to the north.
For all of the complexities in the characterization, there is very little in the plot. Two countries are at war, the heir of one falls in love with a boy destined to lead the other, and heartache ensues. Alera is supposed to have some semblance of a choice here, but by the end she actually is not given much of a choice at all. The entire book leads us to think that something interesting is going to come up, or that Alera will realize her potential as a ruler, or that her love of Narian will incite some kind of action. Instead, it ends with one of the most miserable scenes I've ever read.
Huh. I think I've just convinced myself I don't like this book much after all.
Rating: 2/5 stars
Want a different perspective? Read this rave review by Books with Bite.
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