Author: Erin Bow
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Length: 384 pages
Source: eGalley via NetGalley
The children of world leaders are held hostage in an attempt to keep the peace in this “slyly humorous, starkly thought-provoking” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) novel.
Greta is a Duchess and a Crown Princess. She is also a Child of Peace, a hostage held by the de facto ruler of the world, the great Artificial Intelligence, Talis. This is how the game is played: if you want to rule, you must give one of your children as a hostage. Start a war and your hostage dies.
The system has worked for centuries. Parents don’t want to see their children murdered.
Greta will be free if she can make it to her eighteenth birthday. Until then she is prepared to die with dignity, if necessary. But everything changes when Elian arrives at the Precepture. He’s a hostage from a new American alliance, and he defies the machines that control every part of their lives—and is severely punished for it. His rebellion opens Greta’s eyes to the brutality of the rules they live under, and to the subtle resistance of her companions. And Greta discovers her own quiet power.
Then Elian’s country declares war on Greta’s and invades the prefecture, taking the hostages hostage. Now the great Talis is furious, and coming himself to deliver punishment. Which surely means that Greta and Elian will be killed...unless Greta can think of a way to break all the rules.
Protagonist: Greta has always been the idealistic Child of Peace, the girl who follows the rules, and if her time ever came, would accept her death gracefully. However, when a new hostage is brought into her Precepture she begins to see just how terrifying her world really is. On the whole I really liked Greta and her character development. She goes from the ultimate good girl, who's totally drinking the Precepture Kool-Aid, to someone who challenges the views of this world. Her character development isn't too dramatic and doesn't contrast too much with who she is at the beginning of the book. She just sort of wakes up and looks at the world differently and wonders what she can do to change it.
Romance: The romance in this book is really weird. First off I want to say that there will be a minor spoiler in this section, but I feel like it's a bit of information that's needed to experience this world and the romance in this book more fully. There's a love triangle in this book, between Greta, Elian, and Greta's roommate Xie, with Greta being the magnet in this situation. Meaning there's not only a love triangle but a bisexual one at that which I found very interesting. The problem is though that the romance is sort of just pushed to the wayside for most of this book to make way for the plot and world-building, leading the romances to just sort of happen. I can't think of anyway else to explain it, there's no preamble, not romantic tension before the characters' feelings give way, and with Elian I was more on board with the romance since I was expecting it, but with Xie it took me a bit longer to get used to it since it sort of comes out of no where. However since the romance just sort happened and there wasn't a lot of time to dwell on everything it got really confusing. In most books with a love triangle, there's a lot of agonizing confusion with the main character about who they like and who they want to be with, there really isn't any of that here which made getting a grasp on Greta's feeling nearly impossible.
World-Building: What I found so interesting about this dystopian world is how truly terrifying it sounds just on the surface. Most dystopian worlds try and sound good on the surface, hiding the truly terrifying things about it in it's seedy underbelly, but this one, right away, just sounds insane. That's not even the half of it though. There are far more terrifying things going on in this world than just what you see on the surface, how these children are essentially indoctrinated into being willing hostages to this regime, and how they sort of lose all their fire and defiance so quickly. I really enjoyed getting to learn more about this world and how everything works. In this world there are new countries, monarchies found new life under Talis's rule, though not all countries and alliances use monarchical systems. Each character in this world is so multi-layered and while there are characters that I wish we could learn more about, their struggles and hardships, I only hope that there'll be time in future books to see that.
Predictability: On the whole this book is fairly unpredictable. There is a lot that I could see coming, just from the genre of the book as well as from analyzing the synopsis, but there was still so much that I did not see coming. There wasn't too much foreshadowing, which was a bit of a blessing as well as a curse. Whole sometimes it worked to make a twist have a lot of punch and shock, sometimes it just made things more confusing and vague. Even towards the end there were things about this book, things that I doubt will be touched on in later books, that I'm still a bit confused about, but for the most part I really enjoyed the direction this story took, shocking as it turned out to be.
Ending: The ending of this book was also weird now that I think about it. I mean, what I would typically call the final climax, what fits the archetype of a final climax in this book, comes quite a ways before the actual ending. There are more climactic moments afterwards, but the real final climax of this book, which was much more of an internal struggle, doesn't really fit the typical YA dystopian formula, which upon reflection I actually really like. Going into this ending I wondered if the next book would be a companion novel, more something that continued the story from another point of view than a new story entirely though, but from the looks of things, and the cliffhanger ending, it seems that the next book will in fact be a direct sequel,
So I really struggled with this rating, I almost wanted to give it 3.5 stars, but I enjoyed the plot of the book too immensely for that. My biggest problem was that the romance didn't get the care and attention it needed, and also there were metaphors that I felt were used too liberally throughout the story.