[ARC received through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]
I enjoyed some parts of this novel, while others left me cold, so in the end, I rounded it up to 3 stars: I didn’t like the first half much, but found the second one better. (I guess this is one of those books I might have given up on in the beginning if I hadn’t requested it (with the implicit promise of a review); fortunately, after a while, it finally worked for me.)
Andromeda didn’t strike me as remarkable, indeed, though not because of her place as the “invisible” second daughter, the one always wedged between her two sisters, and of whom nobody seemed to expect much. The reason why I had my qualms with her at first was that she remained mostly passive, let things happen, let her family decide to whisk her away to Windroven, and so on. Once she decided to take matters into her own hands, the dynamics shifted, and the story went onto a more interesting road. Andi made plans, thought more in terms of alliance and politics, and turned out to be more savvy than her wallflower-princess role had led me to believe. Good thing, good thing.
Annfwn was quite a fascinating place, too, and I enjoyed learning more about it, and about the mysterious Tala, with their shapeshifting abilities and their “dark” magic that may or may not be the worst thing in the world. Boundaries were continuously tested and shifted: the actual boundary between Annfwn and the Kingdoms, as well as the characters’ loyalties. Andi’s come to mind first and foremost, yet her sisters’ mettle will no doubt be tested, too. (I admit I would’ve liked to see more of this in the present novel; on the other hand, there would be a lot to show here, so I can understand that the focus here was on Andromeda—book 2′s focus will be on Amelia, from what I saw in the preview, and we might assume that book 3 will be from Ursula’s point of view?)
Throughout the story, I got to see sympathetic, antipathic, and grey-area characters. In the beginning, the court of Uorsin is shown as a place of nobility, with its “brought peace to all the kingdoms” gleam and its shiny guests (such as Hugh, overall a positive man, but not so blandly goody-two-shoes as his Prince Charming side leads people to think). Rayfe provides a rather striking contrast: dark, rough, a demanding, ruthless alpha-male who only cares about what he wants. However, the story soon points at different interpretations. The King’s suspicious attitude towards his own daughter after her meeting with Rayfe, his way of immediately considering her a potential traitor (while her only “crime” was to be assaulted during a ride), clearly show that he’s not so kind nor benevolent. There’s a lot of talk about loyalty in here—Ursula’s toward the crown, the continuous questioning of Andi’s, Amelia’s love and devotion to her family—but in the end, the most loyal ones aren’t always the ones who’re most vocal about it. Other characters are also ambiguous: Zevondeth with her mysterious demand, Dafne who may or may not hide deeper motives…
Mostly my problems with this story, and why I didn’t give it a higher rating:
1) In the first half, Andi comes off as your average YA-novel narrator, which I found a bit juvenile. This seemed to coincide with her passiveness, though, and I felt it less and less as the story went on. Kind of like having her “grow up” at some point and make conscious decisions, become a stronger person who’s been coerced once, but won’t be again, not if she can help it. (So this “problem” was soon solved.)
2) Rayfe: I usually don’t abide by dominating males who speak and act as if the woman doesn’t have a say in the matter, and Rayfe was exactly that. After all, he was ready to besiege a whole castle, take prisoners, and perhaps worse to get Andi. On the other hand, he could’ve done those things much sooner, and somehow he also appeared as wishing to wait for Andi to come to him of her own free will. But it was free will thwarted by threat. But she—not Rayfe—was the one who decided on a plan that was definitely cunning and not so kind. So, yes, I had anticipated Rayfe as a much, much worse character, and was pleasantly surprised when he actually showed himself as still somewhat decent. Ruthless, yet not a complete boor either.
(Also, I had to remind myself that in such a setting, noble people so often got married for politics and alliances rather than love. While it seems pressuring to me as a woman, of course, it still fits the theme of this story. Andi acknowledges that such a marriage would be for politics only, just like Ursula’s would have been.)
3) The romance itself: I’m definitely shared on that one. I still have no idea whether Andi loves Rayfe, or simply lusts after him. Sometimes she seemed to consider things under the “it’ll only be political, so let’s try to be friendly at least” angle, sometimes it felt like she couldn’t live without him. I really didn’t understand her in that regard, and she seems rather confused herself on the matter. As for the sex scenes, they didn’t work for me, mostly because of the vocabulary, though: the story being told from the point of view of a princess, in first person, we can’t really have vulgar words thrown in… but phrases such as “my nether tissues” just made me roll my eyes and wish the story jumped back to the magic and politics faster.
4) In my opinion, while it was great that Andromeda(show spoiler)
I found it came to her just a tad bit too quickly. A matter of pacing, maybe? Too much time spent on her hesitation in the beginning (and on the sex scenes as well—they were eye-candy for me, nothing more)? All in all, I suppose I was more interested in the politics here, and in how Andi would “earn” her place in the second half of the book… so it may just be me.
What is and isn’t a problem: I wanted to learn even more about Annfwn and its magic. For instance, a lot of it revolves around blood. Blood purity taken too far and producing weak offspring. Having enough Tala blood to get back into their home country, or remaining stranded outside.(show spoiler)
The fact that Tala royalty seems to be linked to queens rather than kings, in spite of Rayfe’s position. And let’s not forget the dichotomy between the rumours about Annfwn, and the country Andi discovers: are the rumours totally wrong, or are there darker secrets yet to be revealed? Lots, lots of fascinating aspects, that I hope will be developed in the next book, because I wanted more.
Conclusion: enjoyable story, not more than a “Like” due to the reasons mentioned above, but still interesting enough that I’ll consider picking Amelia’s story once it comes out.