I do not have time to read, but the books just keep getting stuck to my face. UF, HF, YA, fluffy romance, whatever. I love it all.
But I might judge you if you hand out five stars all willy nilly.
Oh, man, here I go again, standing on the outskirts as all my friends love a book and I flounder. *sigh* I don't even seem to be on the same page with the other two-star reviewers. The things that brought the story down for other people are the things I liked most about it, and the things other people liked most are what brought it down for me.
So let's list them and get it over with, shall we?
What I loved:
1. The first 92 pages. There was an opening scene with a mage girl trying to fix a ruined light elixir, and she calls down lightning to do it. The prince of the realm sees the lightning from far off and recognizes it as the signal that the prophecy is about to be fulfilled and the helper he was promised, the one who can bring down the dark forces of the kingdom, has arrived. There were wands, and spells, and vaulting (teleporting) and flying dragon-horse creatures, and a one-time-use trunk that will transport the person inside it to an unknown location in another dimension. This section had 100% of my attention and I couldn't put the book down.
2. The writing. The blurb on the back of my book claims that Sherry Thomas immigrated to the US from China and didn't learn English until she was thirteen, yet she wields the language with subtle yet impressive strokes. It was the simple things that caught my attention. Her words were expertly chosen and the voices she gave her characters fit both the Domain, which was an alternate dimension, as well as 19th-century London, which is where the trunk took Iolanthe in the beginning of the book. I don't know if I've just read a lot of badly written historical fiction lately, so it stood out more to me, but the language and dialogue felt very authentic and I loved the way the characters spoke. The narration and the dialogue were all seamless, and I appreciated that.
3. The Domain setting. I really enjoyed this world and I wished the whole book had been set here. I didn't find it poorly built, as some of the other reviews stated, I just think we wern't able to spend enough time here. The majority of the story is set in a London boarding school for boys, which paled in comparison to the Domain. Hmmm….okay, that's all I've got. Moving on.
What I didn't like:
1. The boarding school setting. Let's face it-- I'm not the target audience for this book. I get it. Most 15/16-year-old girls are going to be intrigued with the boarding school setting. A school filled with boys! One girl hiding out among them, aided by a spell that somehow makes everyone believe they were already friends with Archer Fairfax (Iolanthe's alter ego). I know that school settings are popular with some people, but they really don't do anything for me aside from reminding me I am no longer 16. They make me feel like an adult reading a YA book, which nobody likes to be reminded of. This is not the book's fault. It's my fault for getting old. I also found the setting boring because nothing much really happens in the school aside from a few cricket matches, where we discover that Iolanthe is some sort of athletic cricket savant despite never having seen it played or knowing any of the rules. Boring.
2. Lack of substantial supporting characters. As much as I loved the alternating narration between Prince Titus and Iolanthe, I became bored with them. There were other characters in the book, but I didn't connect with any of them. There were some attempts to show a growing friendship between Fairfax and some of the other boys at the school, but I couldn't see the point in it. There were no Zusana's, no Kenji's, no Froi's.
3. The training missions in the Crucible. So, they have this thing called the Crucible, which is either a cup or a book, I don't even know, and it takes them inside something sort of like Star Trek's holo-deck, where Iolanthe is supposed to be working on her elemental magic skills. I should have been more intrigued with these missions, but I found them boring and pointless. She didn't really learn anything from them, they just seemed like an opportunity for the author to throw out some different scenarios she had thought of for the book but couldn't quite work into the story.
4. The romance. Again, I'm not the target audience for this book. I've come to the conclusion that if a book has a love story, the protagonists need to be at least 17 for me to get on board. Anything younger than that feels like puppy love to me. There are a few series that are technically YA, yet they fall more in the NA bracket, and they are the ones that have resonated with me. Titus and Iolanthe were good characters. I liked them. I appreciated that it wasn't insta-love and it had to grow over time, but I still wasn't into it.
Final Thoughts This book was well-written and the characters didn't piss me off… I just feel sort of 'meh' about it all. I think it's going to do very well and have a large fan following, particularly with the teen set. I even think this is going to be a 4 to 5 star book for a lot of people. But as an adult reader of YA fiction, it just wasn't for me. I'm not directly comparing it to other books, because the stories are nothing alike, but if I had to give examples of YA fantasy that had everything that I want, I would point to Daughter of Smoke & Bone and Finnikin of the Rock. The first 92 pages of this book made me hope I had found a book that could stand alongside them, but once the boarding school setting hit it went downhill. I can't put this book on the same shelf with the greats, and I really did struggle to get to the end, and that is is why I regretfully am not able to rate it any higher.