The synopsis seems great: Tiadone is a Firstborn, forced to live as a boy under the rule of the harsh Madronian empire. At her birth, her parents were faced with the choice of either leaving her to die or declaring her Male. Now, twined with her bird, a Singer called Mirko, Tiadone faces a year of service as a Patroller to the Madronian Empire. With no other Singers, and no other declared males, Tiadone faces a long and lonely year of service.
I really wasn't expecting this book to live up to its great cover, and sadly, I was right. Yeah, it's a coming-of-age novel. Yeah, it's about a girl in that crucial transitional time of adolescence. But despite this, I found myself wishing that it would be good (it's the cover). I was hoping for the next Ender's Game (one of the best coming-of-age novels I've read, that really wrestles with identity), bringing up interesting questions about gender and identity, and engrossing me in the story. That wasn't at all what this book is filled with. Tiadone wrestling with her femininity boils down to, "Oh no. I've hit puberty. Now I like boys. Surprise!"
It's pretty bland. And to make matters worse, the writing isn't even that great either. It's off-putting even, further spoiling what sounded like an interesting story. Issues with puberty (which abound in a book about a girl who needs to act like a guy) are clumsily handled, and I just skipped over several pages. Why bother? We all hated puberty, why go back to it? More broadly, the writing is just clumsy. The author substitutes glowing moss for flashlights, and there's a special 'herb' for every modern medicine you could need. Worst of all, these characters are too special to have 'souls' — instead, they have 'centerselves.'
The R'tan religion is poorly disguised Christianity, and anyone who's familiar with Christianity can recognize it hiding behind a mask. Now, don't get me wrong: I am a Christian and proud to be so. But thinly veiled, re-badged Christianity is just off-putting. It would have been okay if the author had used the opportunity to raise some more interesting clashes between the R'tan religion and the dominant Madronian Empire and their sacred four-winged condor, but aside from a few references, that sort of stuff was totally lacking, and it just makes the R'tan religion seem lifeless.
The characters are, for the most part, lifeless cardboard cutouts. Tiadone goes through a few interesting changes, but they're predictable and we see them coming from miles away. She's a girl, she's having feminine desires: she wants to kiss her best friend. We're not surprised. I mean really, just kiss the guy. Ratho, the guy in question, is an okay character, and there's some conflict between the two, but at the end of the book his story totally trails off and stays unresolved. The ending was okay, and promises more books to follow, but Lorie Ann Grover really should have tied up Ratho and Tiadone better.
I'll admit, I got into the story a little more by the end. But everything mentioned above was like a needle jabbing me out of the story every time I noticed them. And sure, the story may be decent, but if you're getting kicked out of the story every minute, why bother? The book was almost a pain to read, and I was glad to close the back cover and put the book away. Which is a shame, because it really is an awesome cover.
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