I have been wanting to read this author’s books for some time. I thought my first one would be from her Article 5 series since I was interested in that one from the moment I heard about it. But instead, I began with this dystopian romance standalone for my first encounter. I was pulled into this story from the beginning with its scene of desperation, hard and gritty world and setting. She fights for her freedom, survival, and a chance at happiness in a world gone wrong.
Imagine a world where not only are women and men not considered equal, but women are not even considered as important for much beyond childbirth and being used up for carnal needs until tossed aside. Women are kept captive and it is most definitely a man’s world. But on the fringes- in the wild- some women live free- if they are careful and don’t get caught by the hunters and are strong enough for the environment.
Aya is one of these wild women and life is tough, but she is free caring for her cousin and the twins until the hunters come. Aya leads the hunters away from her family and is caught. She is brought into the city to be prepared and then sold at auction. She simmers in fear and anger to see the downtrodden girls around her not just accepting, but eager for their fate to be auctioned to some wealthy city magnate who will use her until he is done and send her back to be resold as damaged good and for this to continue until there is nothing left, but the dregs of the city where the diseased live. Aya plots to stay out of the auctions and to find her escape back into the mountains.
Her companion in solitary where she goes for punishment is her wolf friend, but soon a mute young man from a low class is near and slowly she begins to trust him. Will he help or should she only rely on herself?
I liked how the story leaped off the first pages with a desperate scene that both introduced the heroine and the world she lives in through the action. Later it is teased out and the world takes on that gritty, dark, nearly despairing world that I enjoy in a good dystopian story. I won’t say that the ‘women are no good little better than dirt’ type of stories has appeal because frankly it strikes close to some of the extreme possibilities of an alternate reality that women in the past did face and even some in the present who live in slavery, but it certainly was a strong vehicle and set up for this story to lend it the page-turning quality to it.
I’m not sure about all the details of how thing end up the way they do when it comes to Aya’s world. There is some explanation, but it doesn’t get meticulous. While I’m curious, I can live with what I got since the rest of the story was pretty good and didn’t contradict itself or get confusing. The author took an assumption approach like this is how it’s been so it doesn’t seem strange and new. She skips over Aya’s early intro to the city and goes to when things are more routine and established. I’m actually good with that because it kept the story moving forward to the conflict that I was interested in.
The story is narrated first person entirely by the heroine, Aya. It is her story. She has to survive in captivity, learn the city ways, and then figure out how to escape. She is faced with the decision to give in and conform or stay true to self. She has to question everything she has been taught and will it hold up against what the system in the city is teaching her. She is smart, but rough around the edges. She fights the system, but not stupidly. She has a cunning plan even if she is woefully alone and weak in comparison. I liked her and I was rooting for her. She has her own prejudices and flaws, but she is open and grows.
The part that was least interesting was the details about prepping the girls for auction and the way the girls were in a sort of beauty competition to score with the male buyers, but that said, it worked an adequate vehicle to compare and contrast Aya’s city and wilderness experiences and show the mindsets of those who are unused to free thinking and Aya, who is. It also led to her situation growing more and more desperate. Life is misery for women and the author didn’t stint on this or try to make it romantic- though some of the girls and their minder tried.
The story was desperate, but not fast paced for the central part. The last half really got going and was fast and furious. It was a real page turner at that point on. Surprises and twists. Emotional situations. The ending was abrupt for me, but did fully wrap up loose ends leaving things in a good place for Aya.
Aya is isolated both in her early life with just her mother and a pocketful of others and then she is isolated at the auction prep house because she is different and she chooses to stay aloof.
So the characters who do appear around her take on significance quickly. She has a slightly tamed wolf friend, wary and sometimes hostile relations with the other girls, fear of the scary city guards (this is not a place you want to get caught and sent to jail even if you’re a man- because the rehabilitation process removes the humanity and turns you into a mindless zombie like slave), disgust for the sleazy and arrogant rich men who wanted young nubile girls like harems to give them sons and pleasure, and then there is Kiran.
Kiran is mute and of the lowest class because his people live in tribes in the wild, work with the animals, and are considered scary and odd to the city people. She is at first fearful of him, but then his muteness and stillness when he sneaks near her area of solitary confinement near the back shed, makes her treat him like a sounding block. The reader is ahead of Aya on Kiran’s trustworthiness though it is obvious he has secrets.
The ending was complete and satisfying, but I must have been influenced by the usual formula I have grown accustomed to in dystopians with these sorts of governments because I had a certain expectation that didn’t happen. My surprise might be considered spoilerish so I’ll just say that it refers to the worldbuilding.
I don’t mean to imply that the story isn’t complete. Okay, well yes, I did want things to go on a few more pages. Aya might not need as much romancing after all her trials of life, but this reader did. Needed more couple time. But I can use my imagination, I guess.
This is YA so I would recommend it for mid to older teens because of the potentially disturbing sex slave tones and the violence level.
So, all in all, this was a strong and successful outing with this author for me and I will definitely go back for more of her books. I would recommend it to those who enjoy gritty, mild romance YA Dystopian.
Romance Roundabout #203 YA
New to Me #84 author
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