Verdict: Unexpectedly enjoyable dystopian romance.
Right from the start there’s a dystopian feel to it which lured me in. It’s an easy read, one that I found enjoyable throughout. The main concept is simple: girl enters a contest to win a prince’s hand in marriage. It reminded me of Hunger Games without the physical brutality, although the actual book is more about America and Maxon’s complicated friendship.
America heads into the contest broken and conflicted. She’s not like the other contestants because she doesn’t want what they want. I liked her as a character because she seems quietly confident, enough to stay true to herself even at difficult times.
Maxon is a slightly… odd prince. I found him a bit creepy at first, but grew to like and understand him over time.
I enjoyed the added layer of danger from the rebel attacks. I liked how it means the selected princess will need to be strong and brave, not just a pretty face or likable. The high number of contestants at the start is a little overwhelming, but thankfully some individuals stand out more than others. I think the author handled the character juggling quite well.
My only criticism is the obviousness of the concepts, and while this means it’s very accessible to a range of ages, my tastes lean towards the more complex and thought provoking, even for YA. One contestant clearly has no redeeming traits, whereas I’d prefer to see a more rounded character whose hard to dislike at times. Also, the class system simplifies the social standings of the girls into numbers, and the contract for the competitors is also clearly meant to rile the feminists inside of us. I think the book would have still worked fine without the ideas being so simplified.
By the middle, I was hooked and didn’t want it to end. I’ll definitely read the next in the series.