I absolutely adore reading - my love for books has had a huge impact on my life! I'm going to grad school to be a children's/YA librarian.
In her seventeenth year, Princess Alera of Hytanica faces one duty: to marry the man who will be king. But her father's choice of suitor fills her with despair.
When the palace guard captures an intruder a boy her age with steel-blue eyes, hailing from her kingdom's greatest enemy Alera is alarmed
and intrigued. But she could not have guessed that their clandestine meetings would unveil the dark legacy shadowing both their lands.
In this mystical world of court conspiracies and blood magic, loyalties will be tested. Courage won't be enough. And as the battle begins for everything Alera holds dear, love may be the downfall of a kingdom. (source)
I've said it constantly while reading this book, and it's the biggest point that I want to emphasize in this review: Cayla Kluver should never have followed her mother's advice to self-publish this book, rather than simply going through the process of pursuing a professional publishing company. The result of this huge misstep in judgment is a book that reads as a first draft, one with far too much detail, not enough action, and language that frankly gave me a headache to read.
It was obvious that Kluver went to great lengths to make her book read authentically. She wanted her characters to speak and act as real royalty in a medieval setting would. As a result, her phrasing is very extravagant and formal - to such an extent that it's actually very awkward to read. One of my all-time favorite genres is Tudor era historical fiction and so I am very familiar with the kind of tone that Kluver was trying to imitate. Unfortunately, the result comes across as forced and actually detracted from my reading experience, rather than the feeling of authenticity that Kluver was intending.
In this book, Kluver completely created her own world. It comes across as very similar to medieval/Renaissance era Europe. Kluver put forth a good effort to help her readers envision the land that she created; however, her attempt at world building resulted in a TON of info dumping. It made me think of Rachel Hartman's Seraphina, which takes place in a similar world to Kluver's, with the major exception being the existence of dragons, which, at this point, don't seem to exist in Kluver's world. Hartman effortlessly builds her world in Seraphina, and the reader gradually learns about the land without her spelling out every little detail. Kluver did the exact opposite. She would break up the story with paragraphs explaining in exact detail every aspect of Hytanican life. This occurred frequently through the entire course of the novel, often taking time away from the actual story to describe things that really didn't matter or could have been revealed to the reader in subtler ways. Kluver also fixates on her characters' outfits frequently. Whenever any character is introduced we're given an exact description of their outfits, even though Alera insisted at various parts of the story that she had no interest in fashion. This is a typical occurrence in YA lit, especially when it's written by a young author, but it still greatly annoyed me and distracted me from the story.
Additionally, I think Alera may be one of the most annoying heroines that I've ever read about. In the whole course of the book, she never once expressed interest in anything except for learning more about Narian. She did, however, frequently complain about NOT wanting to participate in various activities and her dread about her forced courtship with Steldor. While I do sympathize with her hesitance to forge a relationship with Steldor - he's super obnoxious -, I also feel that as a princess, she would have been raised to expect an arranged marriage, especially since Alera frequently talks about how in Hytanica, women must submit to men. While I understand why she doesn't want to marry Steldor, given the circumstances, I suppose I find it strange that she isn't more accepting of her father's choice in her husband. I also find it strange that when he's so obnoxious, every other girl in the realm AND Alera's parents adore him. It just doesn't add up. On that note, if Kluver really wanted to create a love triangle (and she definitely wanted to - if you go on her website, she has "Team Steldor" and "Team Narian" banners), she probably should have made her heroine interested in both of them and she probably shouldn't have made Steldor quite so odious.
One thing that Kluver did very well was write the few romance scenes that there were in the book. Alera does no more than kiss either Steldor or Narian, but the few kisses that she does experience are very steamy. Like, I actually felt my heart fluttering in anticipation, just as Alera's was. It's a skill that anyone who hopes to write a good romance novel must have, and Kluver has it. The rest of the book may have bored me, but let me tell you, those few little kissing scenes held every bit of my attention!
Ultimately, while this book wasn't bad, it has a great deal of room for improvement. I struggled to pay attention to it and to finish it. The ending was extremely anti-climactic. It actually felt like the end of a chapter, rather than the end of a book, and it wasn't even a good cliff hanger. I honestly feel no desire to find out what happens in the rest of the series, and I don't plan to continue it, at least not when I have such a long TBR list that's filled with much more promising books than I think the rest of this trilogy will be. From now on, whenever I get into a self-publishing v. professional publishing discussion, this is the book that I will point to as an example of what's missed when authors choose to self publish.