3 out of 5 stars.
I received an ARC of this book.
Spoilers for the first book ahead.
This is the second in a fantasy series that takes place in an imaginary world where a conquered people suffer under the foot of an oppressive ruling class. Jess is a child born of both worlds, with a Patron father and a Commoner mother. In the first book, her father is forced to abandon her mother as part of the political manoeuvrings of higher-ups. Jess is taken into the palace as a competitor in the Fives, the Empire’s favourite game that is a combination of acrobatics, strength, and strategy. The rest of Jess’ family is almost killed, but she manages to save them. She also makes friends with one of the realm’s princes who also loves the Fives and gets in touch with a fomenting rebellion.
I wasn’t all that impressed with the first book and this second one isn’t that much more thrilling. Jess continues to try and survive at court, run her competitions, manage her conflicting family loyalties and try to understand the Empire’s history that lead to the subjugation of everyone living there. And therein lies the problem. These books have too much going on for the length of text. There are other novels that have all of this, but they are 500+ pages. This one is a normal YA length, so it does not have nearly enough room for all of these plot points to be properly explored. It feels like Jess is torn in too many directions and so there is no real room for world or character building. The only thing we have is hurried plot exposition.
Fans of books like “The Hunger Games” or the “Red Rising” series will like the competition aspect of the book, but it is not described in much detail or has as much riding on it.
Jess isn’t great as a character. She is generically brave and generically determined but I did not find her inner voice very dynamic or compelling. She was a very flat character for all that she is shown in quite a few different situations. None of the characters struck me as being especially memorable or realistic.
This book is very average. The world is kind of neat, but not enough to stand out in a crowd of very similar publications. I would find something else unless you are really bored.