Author: Cinda Williams Chima
Length: 426 pages
Source: Library Audio Book
Before he knew about the Roses, 16-year-old Jack lived an unremarkable life in the small Ohio town of Trinity. Only the medicine he has to take daily and the thick scar above his heart set him apart from the other high-schoolers. Then one day Jack skips his medicine. Suddenly, he is stronger, fiercer, and more confident than ever before. And it feels great-until he loses control of his own strength and nearly kills another player during soccer team tryouts.
Soon, Jack learns the startling truth about himself: He is Weirlind; part of an underground society of magical people who live among us. At the head of this magical society sit the feuding houses of the Red Rose and the White Rose, whose power is determined by playing The Game - a magical tournament in which each house sponsors a warrior to fight to the death. The winning house rules the Weir.
As if his bizarre magical heritage isn't enough, Jack finds out that he's not just another member of Weirlind-he's one of the last of the warriors - at a time when both houses are scouting for a player.
Characters: I had a tough time trying to figure out who to talk about in this section. Normally if there's a prevalent protagonist I would just talk about the one person and if there's more of an ensemble cast I'd talk about a bunch of characters, however for this book there is a very obvious protagonist, but the other characters in this story are so dynamic I wanted to talk about them as well. First off is our protagonist Jack. Jack lives a fairly normal life, but after he forgets to take his medicine one day and after a fairly eventful trip with his aunt Linda, he gets thrust into a world of magic, hierarchy, and mystery that hides in the shadows of modern day. Jack learns he's a warrior and, in this world, magical warriors are used as fodder for a barbaric tournament to determine which wizarding house rules. Jack was a fantastic narrator, he's very perceptive and whenever he gets sidelined by something it's never something that obvious to the reader or that there was a lot of foreshadowing for. He's a very tangible character who reacts to this world in a very realistic way, which is hard to find in a lot of YA series these days. Then there are the other characters, I kind of don't want to go into specifics here because I feel like if I do I'll give something away, but I love how even some of the minor characters of this story jump off the page. Every character feels realistic, every character is flawed and complex and has this aura of life to them that's hard for me to fully articulate.
Romance: So, there isn't much romance in this book, and yet the romantic relationship featured in this story is still one of the best one's I've read. I think what makes this romance so great is in fact how little attention there was to the actual romance. It's the relationship that's featured and it's not all lovey-dovey, and race to saying "I love you" but establishing a bond between these characters so that when a romance is introduced it doesn't feel rushed or forced. In fact for pretty much the entire book the romance feels very fledgling and doesn't develop very far, however, the romance isn't the star of the show, it's not why you should pick up this book, but I like that the author added it and incorporated it so well into the much grander story this book has to tell.
World Building: I have to say going into this book I was a bit hesitant, Having read Chima's Seven Realms series and loving it so much I was afraid that venturing forth into another world created by this author would end up being underwhelming, especially since this is her earliest published work. That being said I had no reason to fear. This world is incredible, it does take a moment or two to fully adjust to what's going on, but once everything is explained this world begins to suck you in and the plot begins to thicken as things are foreshadowed and the intricacy of this world begins to show. I love the political intrigue elements of this world with the different magic guilds and how one guild has found themselves on top and instead of ruling just have begun to abuse their power. The way the magic system is set up is also amazing, it's not overly complicated or too simplistic it finds a nice balance in the middle and has good checks and balances.
Predictability: Overall Cinda Williams Chima does a great job setting up twists in one of her books. There's always the right amount of foreshadowing and misdirection and one thing I really appreciate is that she never goes for the complex twist or out of nowhere surprise. In this book, there are a great deal of revelations that come out, and for me, the things that I had already predicted and the things that genuinely surprised me were about even. There is a big twist, probably the biggest twist of the book and it was something I was able to predict and the funny thing was that it wasn't because of foreshadowing or anything like that but purely because there was no other option.
Ending: Going into the ending of this book I wasn't sure what was going to happen, I had a pretty good idea at some of the big picture things, but overall I wasn't sure how things were going to go down during the final climax. That being said, what I assumed at the time was the final climax turned out to be just the beginning. The real final climax was interesting, I liked how the author was able to begin to bring this story to an end without resorting to a loophole or quick fix. There are real stakes in this ending and real consequences of the actions taken. As the story enters its final chapter there's an epilogue of sorts. This book ends in a very unique way. There's an ending to the story, but it's almost like the ending to a series where you know a spin off's coming, as if there's a calm now, but the storm is still brewing.
I loved this book and this world and these characters just come to life. I did want to say that after finishing this book, with the way it ended I wasn't chomping at the bit to continue down this series, but as more time passes since finishing this book I just want to read the second one more and more.