I didn’t think this was a bad book, and I think there will be readers who enjoy it. The concept is really cool, and I initially found it very compelling. However, in the end, I had to fight to keep myself reading because I just wasn’t invested in the characters or the outcome. I have a feeling that most of my high school readers would lose interest fairly quickly. I only gave it three stars.
Sonya was born with the rare gift to feel what those around her feel—both physically and emotionally—a gift she’s kept hidden from the empire for seventeen long years. After a reckless mistake wipes out all the other girls with similar abilities, Sonya is hauled off to the palace and forced to serve the emperor as his sovereign Auraseer.
Tasked with sensing the intentions of would-be assassins, Sonya is under constant pressure to protect the emperor. But Sonya’s power is untamed and reckless, and she can’t always decipher when other people’s impulses end and her own begin. In a palace full of warring emotions and looming darkness, Sonya fears that the biggest danger to the empire may be herself.
As she struggles to wrangle her abilities, Sonya seeks refuge in her tenuous alliances with the charming-yet-volatile Emperor Valko and his idealistic younger brother, Anton, the crown prince. But when threats of revolution pit the two brothers against each other, Sonya must choose which brother to trust—and which to betray.
I thought this book was rather dull. The politics bored me and the intrigue was predictable from the beginning. There is a lot of talk about equality and the archaic class system of a monarchy, but readers are never really given a personal connection to the horrors of the faceless, nameless mass of people that suffer the most under the rule of the Emperor. It is clear that there is a problem with the system, but since it is so removed from the action, it just doesn’t feel as urgent and necessary as it should. There is only one character that we get to know personally who represents the mistreated masses, and she lives in the castle and is given relative freedom. The true horrors are vague and expected – hunger, forced military drafting, slave-like conditions. The people who are suppose to be in charge of the revolution dither around a lot, so the majority of the book builds up and then lets readers down when there is no follow-through.
The protagonist was hard to really connect with because she was a vessel for everyone else’s emotions, maybe. Neither she nor I seemed to be able to distinguish where her feelings ended and those of the other characters began. While that is the point, this would have been more successful if there had been some clear rules about how the empathy worked. She came across as indistinct and the “love” she felt for the men she encountered was never clearly, sincerely her own. I also kept wondering why someone didn’t force their feelings on her and just have her assassinate the emperor – it was clear that she could be induced to act on someone else’s will, but her control inexplicably changed when she got to the palace (I think I was suppose to believe that her connection with the prince was the factor that changed her, but I wasn’t completely sure). Again, the rules just weren’t clear enough for me.
Again, just because I didn’t enjoy it doesn’t mean you won’t, but it will put some folks to sleep. Language and situations are appropriate for high school and beyond.
I received an ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.