Rating: 5/5 Stars
I was given an eARC of this novel by the author in exchange for an honest review. This review will be spoiler-free.
For full disclosure, I want to put it out there that I am on Jenna Moreci’s street team for this novel. However, I can assure you that this did not cloud my judgement at all. I was prepared to give this novel a bad review if it deserved it, though, luckily for me (and for all of you), Moreci wrote an amazing book.
First off, the pacing was so well done. It’s been such a long time since a novel has hooked me like this, and I found myself taking any free moment I had to get in as much reading as I could. Once the main character, Tobias, had been accepted into the Sovereign’s Tournament (which I believe happened no later than the second chapter), I can’t think of a single dull moment where I was left feeling bored or wishing the plot would move faster. Moreci also did a great job of balancing the action, humor, and romance, making all three elements move the story along at a breakneck speed that kept me enthralled.
Speaking of the romance, can we get a “HELL YEAH!” up in here for a legitimately healthy relationship? First of all, I’m trash for the forbidden romance trope, so Moreci already had the advantage by including it in her novel. But also including multiple instances of the characters asking for consent, stopping to make sure the other was comfortable, and a million other adorable moments made me squee like a teenage girl.
Another great thing about this book was the world building. It was obvious how much time Moreci took to create a believable world for her story to take place in. Religion, government, and culture were a huge aspect to the novel, and they were very fleshed out and easy for the reader to understand. There were some things that were left unexplained, but since this book is the first in a series I’m willing to withhold judgement on this front until the series is complete. Anything that wasn’t made clear, though, did not impede my understanding or knowledge of what was happening in the novel, which is what’s important at this point.
The characters, too, were both an important aspect of this book and one of the best aspects of this book. With such a large cast, it would have been easy for the reader to get lost trying to remember who everyone was, and I will admit that sometimes I forgot some of the less important characters, but overall Moreci did a great job making each character stand apart from the others with their own personality and identifiable qualities. One of the best moves she made was assigning ‘laurels’ to the competitors in the tournament, which were labels used to tell the characters apart. For example, Tobias was the Artist. These really helped to keep the competitors straight in my mind, at least for the first half of the novel as I worked to learn their real names and personalities. The characters were also very diverse, and not only racially. There were LGBT+ characters, physically disabled characters, and mentally disabled characters as well, and it never felt like Moreci was trying to make her novel diverse for diversity’s sake.
Of course, no book is perfect, and there were a couple of things I picked out that could have been improved. These were just small things, though, and did not impede my enjoyment of the novel enough to deduct points from my rating.
The first thing was some of the dialogue during chapter one. Tobias’s mother and sister info dump the backstory of who the Savior is and why they hold the Sovereign’s Tournament through dialogue that doesn’t sound very natural. In general, having characters give the “As you know…” info dump is not the best way to get information across to the reader, and I think this could have been handled in a different way.
The other thing that bothered me a little was the capitalization when it came to the Savior. The pronouns I understood, and I felt like they added to the world building in a positive way. However, there were moments where the competitors were discussing Her, and they would say things like, “Tell me She’s not the most ravishing Creature you’ve ever seen.” The capitalization of “Creature” here felt superfluous and took me out of the story for a second.
I would also like to give a few trigger warnings for this novel, those being: Sexual harassment/assault (on women and men), descriptions of blood and gore, and spiders (my arachnophobia flared up hard while reading this book).
Overall, though, this novel was fantastic. The plot was well-crafted, the characters were fun to get to know (or fun to hate with a fiery passion), and the world was pretty fully fleshed out. This novel would best be described as The Hunger Games meets The Bachelorette, with a dash of some spicy forbidden romance. And if you don’t love Tobias by the end of this novel, there’s something wrong with you.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of trial-centric stories (like The Hunger Games or the fourth Harry Potter novel, for example) and epic, healthy love stories. I would not, however, recommend this book to anyone who is extremely bothered by death and gore, for obvious reasons, or to anyone who doesn’t like to read graphic depictions of sexual acts.