This is a beautifully written first novel by Rae Carson. It is reminiscent of a younger, more toned down storytelling type such as Jacqueline Carey is known for in her Kushiel series. The language is so vivid and imaginative. I can picture every single thing that is happening in the book, like a little movie playing out in my head.
"Beside me, Ximena's gray bun has come loose and her hair swings below her shoulders."
I am immediately intrigued by this gem that is somehow located in Elisa's bellybutton area. But I am guessing that is the point! It's very interesting how it reacts to Elisa's emotions and actions with heat and cold, almost as if it is a living creature, yet hard as stone.
I think Elisa, the main character and heroine of this novel, is one of my favourite female characters in a long time. She is not perfect. She is not the ultimate slender and stunningly beautiful lead that is most often seen. She is "lumpy" and "awkward" and "clumsy", and she is much more likely for readers to be able to understand. Her sister is the family favourite and as such Elisa is often ignored and pushed aside, invisible.
One of my favourite things about this book is that not only is Elisa described as an overweight girl, but it's not just pointed out once in the beginning of the novel and then never mentioned again, hoping the reader will forget she isn't perfect. It's brought up over and over again throughout the whole story, without being too obvious. It is noted in her actions, and in the way the people around her perceive her and react to her. It is amazingly woven in.
"I feel so slow as I run toward my husband, my belly and breasts bouncing painfully with each step."
As the story progress and certain things occur it is interesting how the author even works in some fluctuations in her weight, eating style and overall appearance and character as her life forces her down different paths. She experiences amazing growth throughout the story and ultimately works toward and deserves the strong role her character is placed in. And it's not just Elisa, all characters get equal treatment from the author with vivid descriptions and depth of emotion and overall character development. Every character is their own person who exists and struggles with their own stories, emotions and experiences their own growth.
There is enough action in this story to keep even the most overactive boys sitting eagerly on the edge of their seat. Add to that all the mystery, intrigue and politics and you have the making of a great novel!
Some parts of the story are highly predictable and therefore take the shock and awe out of what takes place. Also, many of the areas I found lacking flow and very jolting to the reader, hopping from one part of the story to another without any kind of warning pause or break. There are also some minor editing issues with missing words, incorrect words and spelling errors which jolt the reader from their reading flow, but as this is an ARC it is to be expected.