[I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review]
I freely admit I thought this book was going to be DREADFUL. It markets itself as ‘The Hunger Games’ meets ‘The Bachelor’ like that sounds like a good thing. There has been heavy reviewer/blogger backlash against the author (click here). I went into it expecting to have to drag myself through to the end, sneering authoritatively the whole while. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised!
After generations of world war and annexation by China, the USA has refounded itself as a new country called Illeá. This of course frees up the noun America to become our protagonist’s name: America Singer. Guess what she’s good at. The dystopian society of Illeá is based on separating people into numbered castes; Ones are royalty – Sixes, Sevens and Eights are servants/slaves. America is a Five (musicians, artisans, etc). She is in love with Aspen, a Six, and this is something that both society – and her social ladder-climbing mother – will never accept.
Traditionally in Illeá, a young lady from each of the 35 districts is presented to the heir to the throne and from this lottery – broadcast on television – he selects his bride and future queen. Obviously, America is Selected, probably the only girl in Illeá brokenhearted to be so, as she is taken away from her family and from Aspen and made-over and groomed and trained in the arts of being a Queen. For every week she remains at the castle (the prince, Maxon, can tell ladies he knows he has no interest in to leave) her family are compensated financially, so she knows she has to stick it out.
Tensions between the 35 girls are – as you can imagine – intense and brutal , however it is the outside world that America and the other Selected have to worry about, as routinely the castle and the royal household are attacked by terrorists/freedom fighters (take your pick, as ever).
Despite the long synopsis above, hardly anything happens in this book. Somehow there manages to be a c
liffhanger though and that annoyed me – add 100 more pages, do a little editing on what already exists, and this could have easily been a standalone novel rather than a series, and much the better for it. Why does everything have to be a series lately?? However what does happen is compelling, I actually couldn’t put it down! America – despite everything suggesting to the contrary – is a great protagonist, strong and interesting. The inevitable love triangle is also quite interesting – both Maxon and Aspen are well drawn and I almost can’t pick a favourite!
It’s a romance story, don’t be fooled – the dystopian aspect is so secondary you can be sure that the author is just cashing in on the recent flavour for it – it could EASILY be an alternative universe/fantasy world, Illeá does not need to be the ex-United States. However I enjoyed the ‘history’ of Illeá and the little bits of world-building here and there intrigued me.
Perhaps the relatively high score of 3.5 reflects that I went into the book with incredibly low expectations… however at the end of the day, I enjoyed the read and want to get hold of the second one when it comes out – and discuss the love triangle and characters with book buddies! So on that basis – and on the understanding that some books can have stupid plots and character names and still be an enjoyable reading experience – recommended! 3.5 stars.