I’ve had this one for a while, and haven’t read it because I was expecting it to be what I call the icky YA Book 2 Transition Book (and I really should make a list of all those). I remember not liking Aurelia as much as my friend. I enjoyed it, and read it like I eat popcorn –all consuming, but it wasn’t too different from other books in the same genre for me. As I have said before, I need a little surprise or at least uniqueness in my books. This is especially true with YA books that involve princesses who defy all meanings of the word, princess. And my friend’s review for this book (which is the sequel to Aurelia) wasn’t as good as her review for book 1. Needless to say, I wasn’t looking forward to this.
I was mistaken. This book brought the unique surprises that I was missing in book 1. And I am so glad I decided to read it. Book 1 takes place at the castle, where plots to murder Aurelia are under full sway. It is discovered that the plotter is Aurelia’s sister, who she loves, but was everyone’s first guess as to who the plotter was…And her old childhood friend, Robert, comes back to the castle to help protect her and also rekindle his love for her. The other thing that bothered me about book 1 was that there was all this mention of how Aurelia was different from her sister, and even her father. How she cared about her people because she talked with them, and made little trips into the village to help them. But this was never really shown; it was summarized. So, I wasn’t quite believing it. I needed to see these scenes, and meet some village characters, and have them actually have names and not just be referred to as her people…
What book 2 does is accomplish this. Aurelia takes off after all the attempts to kill her. No one believes that it was her sister. She decides to go see the rest of her kingdom, taking a long, strenuous journey with Robert. Then tension between these two, alone, would make this novel worth reading! I loved their romance, and its slow, inevitable build. But back to what I was saying, Aurelia, in this book really meets the people of her kingdom. We even get names! She saves babies, survives fires, learns about her mother (who mysteriously disappeared after her brother’s death when she was a little girl), she meets beautiful horses, survives sand storms, loses dear friends, falls in love, and genuinely learns the truths about the land she calls her own. She discovers the child slavery that happens by the frontier. She learns about how hard it is to move across each section of the kingdom, some sections requiring waiting in line to get passes that no one can afford. She sees whole communities who rebel against her father. She sees horse raiding and poverty. And best of all, she learns that her father is not all he’s cracked up to be.
To top it all off, she learns that she wants to be queen to help these people. She’s tired of running away. She wants to end the things her father refused to recognize. Too bad she comes to this conclusion too late, and her father dies while she is away. She also finds out too late that her sister has accused her of his death. And the book ends with a couple more twists too. It ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, but I have a feeling a war might happen in book 3.
I absolutely loved this book! I loved meeting The Oracle, and seeing where the beautiful horses come from. I loved getting to know Robert’s parents. I loved the frontier scenes. The book subtlely threw in some Western themes about leaving everything behind in hope for a better future on the frontier. It was a great adventure! The adventure involved a lot of sad discovery for Aurelia, but Aurelia has become so strong that despite these terrible things she comes to see, she still sees beauty everywhere. There is one scene, when she first sees the dessert, and can’t stop dancing in it’s beauty; she even gets overprotective Robert to stop and smell the roses sometimes.
I love how she and Robert really matched each other. They did not have that instant soul mate thing that other YA characters tend to have. Their love became stronger as they got to know each other better, as they survived together. And they were very different people with two completely different personalities that just worked so well together. And at every turn, the two lovebirds are being chased by assassins, heightening up the action!
I give this book a 10/10. I was so much more impressed with it than I was with book 1. And I highly recommend this series to fans of Sherwood Smith, Tanith Lee, and Gail Carson Levine. I can’t wait for the third installment!