This review is going to be a bit different because Phoebe has not read the book. The premise of the book was interesting to both of us, but I read a lot of reviews that claimed the story was not appropriate for young adult readers, so I decided to read it on my own first. I struggled with the negatives of this book all the way through, but, in the end, I have to agree–this is not a book for younger teen readers. Potential spoilers ahead!
Let me start with the positives. I enjoyed the book–the plot and characters are interesting and compelling. Kelsea, as a heroine, is admirable. She is brave and smart. Raised in obscurity, she is brought home when she is nineteen to be Queen. But her life is constantly in danger, and she must learn how to survive as well as how to serve her people. She is a princess, but she is not a Disney-style, passive princess. She is not breathtakingly beautiful, and she is conscious of this. Many people have criticized this aspect of her personality–that she is too down on herself; that she wishes she was prettier. Well, who doesn’t? For me, this made her more real. She doesn’t mope and moan about it, but she sees truly gorgeous women and the power that gives them–and she envies that a bit. Most women–young and old–deal with this in their lives. That we envy beauty isn’t a problem–it is how we handle that envy, and Kelsea handles it just fine. In the end, her intelligence, her determination, and her compassion define her, not her looks.
There is some swearing in the book, but it is not really any more than some other books we have read together recently. There is also some romance, but that is not the main focus of the story. There is also loss, death, and violence, but most of that is also on a par with other things we have read.
But this is where I begin to have a problem with the book as a “young adult” novel. Some of the references to sex are too explicit. I am by no means a prude, but there are some things younger teens don’t need to read or imagine. One character refers to a sexual encounter as “a quick f**k.” Granted, this character is evil, but still. Rape is threatened and described. Oral sex is coerced from characters, and some of the terminology used for body parts, female ones in particular, is unacceptable–to me anyway. Now, there are maybe a total of six of these instances in the whole book, so it is definitely a fraction of the content. And the intent, I believe, is to show how truly horrible and vile the characters behind these acts are. None of it is glorified or glamorized. Which is why I struggled with it as far as age appropriateness goes. But, in the end, I had to put this in the “older teen” column. Sixteen, maybe, but not thirteen.