I nearly did not finish this book. Although I appreciated the unique concept and creative world-building, a cast of unlikable characters fell short of my expectations and ruined the experience.
The story follows Buc, a teenage girl who uses her quick mind and prodigious memory to manipulate people and navigate extraordinary circumstances in pursuit of her goals. She is shadowed by Eld, a jaded former soldier who abandons his better judgement to blindly follow Buc in her ruthless quest for power. Together they form a vaguely Sherlockian investigative duo who spend as much time getting into trouble as they do getting out of it.
I might have tolerated the moral ambiguity of these characters if I understood them better, but the author failed to make his protagonists relatable. Consequently, I spent most of the story feeling annoyed by Buc’s arrogance, immaturity, and hypocrisy. Far from being the heroine of the story, she is a villain in the making. Perhaps this was the author’s intent, but if so, he gave no indication that this was the case.
A disturbing element was the author’s choice to spark a romantic connection between Buc and Eld. The age difference and power imbalance between these two characters makes a romantic relationship inappropriate, but nothing in the text indicates this.
An additional problem is the way women are portrayed throughout the story. Too much emphasis is placed on their outward appearance and level of attractiveness–and most of the interpersonal conflict is between female characters. This is a book that only pays lip service to female empowerment.
I wanted to love this book, but what little potential it possessed was lost when the author justified the reprehensible actions of his protagonist. If I can’t empathize with the characters, I can’t love the book!
Thank you BookishFirst and Tor Books for the ARC of this book.