Originally posted at Paperback Wonderland.
First of all, the beginning is filled with info-dump. Not only that, most of it is told instead of shown.
The first few chapters are basically the main character info-dumping her whole world and personal life in an inner monologue. I don't know if it was just me, though the info-dumpy inner monologue certainly didn't help, but I personally could not connect at all with Kaliope, the main character. This book uses first person narrative, so I was expecting to feel... something towards Kaliope. It didn't happen. Most of her sentences feel robotic. Is that deliberate, because she's traumatised? Or because she has cybernetic parts and mercury in her blood? Either way, it didn't work for me.
I had a hard time ignoring the mercury thing. The characters seem human, and there's talk about technology keeping them safe from mercury - in Kaliope's case, a clamp keeps mercury from reaching her heart. I don't know, I'm not an expert on mercury poisoning, but I'd worry about it reaching her brain, besides if you can get it from eating too much fish or inhaling tainted air, what would mercury in her blood do to her? We're told that Alyah, the goddess of healing, watches over her, I guess that's what's keeping her safe, but what about everyone else?
The matriarchal society was another thing that kept me from connecting with the characters. Listen, I'm a feminist, I believe in equality - that's the key: equality. Anything other than that is creepy, no matter how benign you try to make it sound (though it failed at that), and I couldn't stop seeing the characters as unfair for buying into this. Yes, it's part of Kaliope's character arc to realise that men aren't useless, but that wasn't easy to appreciate considering I only kind of connected with her character near the end.
I actually felt bad for Caben: his father, the king, was murdered by invaders. His realm is under attack. And Kaliope's empress has him abducted, supposedly to keep him safe, while his people need his leadership to survive. And when he makes it known he's not happy with this, Kaliope fantasises about punching him the face. I mean... is the author actively trying to make me dislike the main character?
Kaliope is charged with protecting him, and their first interaction, while she leads him to his rooms so he can wash and eat, goes like this:
Marching ahead of Prince Paynebridge, I take the lead and exit the chamber. “Keep up,” I say to him under my breath. Once we’re farther down the corridor, I say louder, “If you try anything stupid, I’ll slice you from stomach to throat. I don’t care who you are.”
Then she thinks about killing him because he asked for food, and men aren't supposed to order women around...
There are strong female characters, and I love reading about them, and then there are these... hyperbolic absurdities. Which I hate with a passion.
Taking all of this into perspective, plus the fact that Caben comes from a somewhat misogynistic society, their relationship seems forced.That being said, halfway into the book the plot becomes more engaging, and the characters more bearable and believable, and I finally started to enjoy the story.
Anyway, give this a chance. The plot has potential, and if it were not for the characters I probably would have liked this book - and as I pointed out at the beginning of this review, perhaps this dislike is just mine, and others won't share it.