Asa lives in a world divided by three Houses; Galton, Westlet and Fane. Asa herself is the youngest daughter of the House of Fane. These Houses are the center of their own worlds, something like a kingdom, but peace between them does not exist. After Asa’s mother betrayed Fane and moved to Galton thirteen years ago, Asa’s father put a lockdown on all of Fane to protect them, but after years pass it leads to starvation and lack of energy resources. In the attempt to fix this, Asa’s father decides to marry Asa’s older sister, Emmie, off to the heir of Westlet in a mutual bond of strength against Galton, threatening to invade and take over both Westlet and Fane. But Asa, thinking she can save her entire family, takes Emmie’s place in the marriage. This is only the beginning of the crumbling Houses, their survival depending on Asa.
This is what I’m promised when I begin the book. Something like royalty, an arranged marriage and a whole world leaning on Asa in the hope that she can save them all. What I got was a lot of politics, which mostly didn’t make sense at all, a childish, naïve protagonist and a mopey, quite male main character. Three worlds that did very well crashing their own futures well before Asa turned up to make things not much more interesting but certainly more crazy.
Asa is sixteen but often acts like she’s ten. She thinks that she can take her sister's place in the irrevocable blood bond marriage with the heir of Westlet without causing too much harm, never thinking further than her own nose in every decision she makes. Early in the book, her other sister, Wren, is critically injured and left in a coma. Asa does everything she can to save Wren but ultimately blames herself for her sister not waking up since it was Asa’s decision to leave a planet in full riot with the injured Wren in search for a qualified medic without finding one. The House of Westlet requires their son to be married with the heir to the House of Fane – which is Wren – but since she’s in a coma and not likely to wake but, Asa’s father decides to pull the plug on her, let Emmie take the place as heir and marry her off instead. Asa spends big portions of the book trying to save an unconscious Wren and most of her decisions is based on her sister, which is probably why she fucks up so many things. Asa, as the youngest, apparently never learned that sometimes you need to see past one person to save all the rest. As awful as that truth is, Asa manages to doom practically everyone in the book by her choice to take Emmie’s place in an attempt to save Wren from being unplugged.
I tried, I really tried to understand Asa but failed every time. She babbles all the time which I, unlike the heir of Westlet, does not find cute. She’s rash and keeps trying to fix things only to make them even worse. She’s too young and too immature and I’m probably way too old for both this book and this character but I’ve read books with sixteen year old protagonists before and Asa looks like a baby compared to them. She’s too much of a child and not strong enough to carry this story forward.
The book starts in the middle of a take-off from previously mentioned planet in a riot with Wren already unconscious in Asa’s arms. After that things slow down and six months passes before Asa hastily is married to the heir of Westlet, Eagle, and then I think the rest of the book spans out across around two weeks. The biggest action scenes came in the beginning, with the rest of the book mostly being about politics that wasn’t very well explained and seemed strange, and the love story evolving around Asa and Eagle. They go from being complete strangers to loving each other in no time, in between not spending too much time actually getting to know each other. Asa is very quick to get feelings for Eagle and he responds in kind in a relationship that felt so fake and so weak it would probably break if you blew some air at it. The story is told from Asa’s eyes so I knew her pretty well, but Eagle was surrounded by question marks. Their relationship didn’t feel real or believable and since that is a big part of what holds up the story, it wasn’t hard for the rest of the book to crumble.
Much like Asa, many characters seemed childish and naïve. The Lady of Westlet acted like a teenager and Asa’s mother quite the same. Asa’s father seems rather stupid for being the sole ruler of what I suspect is an entire galaxy (I’m still not too clear on exactly what the Houses are – just planets or a galaxy? Elwood wasn’t too forward with this information), showing not too much love for Asa. Lady Westlet talks about the importance of poise and power but most of the characters in the various Houses acted like children. Emmie, I feel, has potential, but Elwood constantly wrote her down and made her into something that was only described as 'power' and 'lipstick'. Both Asa’s father and Emmie seemed to lack emotion toward Wren, who was constantly about to be unplugged. No grown-up sets their foot down when things heats up and it feels like they’re just tiptoeing each other while Asa gets ready to fix things she doesn’t entirely understands.
I found no character good enough, all are weak and rather boring, not believable in any way. Eagle (what kind of name is that by the way?) didn’t say very much and made it extremely hard for me to get to know, which only got me more annoyed and bored with the story. No one was interesting and no one was strong enough to carry this story.
Elwood brought in a lot of new words and things without explaining them, leaving me to guess from the words and the few descriptions we get what the thing in question is, how it looks and what it’s used for. The world is full of technical things but I understood very little since it wasn’t explained and I was left confused many times. The politics, as well, like I mentioned before, was odd and pretty boring. On top of all of that, the writing in itself lacked so much. Descriptions, correct sentences, a way to pull me into the story… Instead of chapters Inherit the stars has different parts divided into smaller bits (parts that could’ve gotten more interesting names than “Blood” or “Loss”, by the way, which didn't feel very creative). Sometimes after ending one of these parts and starting a new one, things didn’t flow as smoothly as I expected and I was left raising my eyebrows while wondering about what the heck I was reading since it seemed like I had missed something. Turning back a few pages didn’t clear anything up and I had to accept that the story apparently skipped certain parts without telling me about it. Other times things just happened without the reader finding out how, like Asa suddenly having something but never saying how she acquired it, and I was left even more confused.
All in all, the best part of this book was the title and the cover. The actual content wasn’t good at all and I won’t recommend this to anyone. Too much unnecessary drama and far too little adequate writing. Save your money and buy a better sci-fi book because this didn’t hold up at all.
At the end of The Winner’s Crime, Arin has left the imperial palace and the capital of Valoria to return to Herran to fight for his country, in the belief that Kestrel never cared one bit for him. Kestrel, meanwhile, has been Arin’s secret spy for months and tells him so in a letter which ends up in the wrong set of hands. Instead of earning Arin’s forgiveness and his love, Kestrel is disowned by her father, shunned by her emperor and sent to the prison camp far out on the tundra as punishment. This is where The Winner’s Kiss takes off. Kestrel is locked away, given a drug that makes her forget herself while clinging to the hope that the last clue she sent to Arin will reach him and that he will come and save her. Arin, certain that Kestrel has betrayed him yet again, goes back to Herran to prepare for war against Valoria. Their love is as broken as their countries, but Arin is determined to fight for Herran and his people. Will he fight for Kestrel, too? And Kestrel, can she ever forgive what was done to her or will she rise up against the country that turned its back on her – if she ever makes it out of the camp alive?
The foundation of this book had every chance of setting up the reader for quite a ride. After the horrible cliffhanger in The Winner’s Crime, we’re left wondering if Kestrel can manage to sneak out of a prison camp and if Arin will ever get himself together and realize that whatever Kestrel did was always only to protect him. I longed for The Winner’s Kiss to reach my hands and it felt slightly surreal when I finally had it within reach. I jumped into it with mixed feelings – excited and nervous, curious and afraid. Would it end the way I wanted to or would it be a huge disappointment? Now that I’ve finished I can say that the biggest disappointment was actually how I lost grasp of the story after a while.
I loved the first two installments immensely and read them in a few days, only a couple of months apart. The Winner’s Kiss I’ve waited for since late spring last year and I haven’t reread either previous book in the series during the wait, nor in the anticipation of the release of the final part. Maybe I should’ve, not because I had forgotten everything (although there were parts I frowned at and which felt fuzzy, but Rutkoski nicely weaved in reminders for me along the way), but rather that I forgot the way Rutkoski wrote. I remember loving it, thinking it was different and fresh yet poetic and beautiful. Because it’s been a while since I read the previous two books I can’t say if I’ve changed or if Rutkoski’s way of writing has. It felt different this time nonetheless, at times more childish, at times rushed and at other times almost cold and chopped off. The characters felt colder and I had a harder time connecting to them.
The book is written in third person, seen from both Arin and Kestrel’s eyes, which usually is done in alternating chapters. But here, when so much happened, Rutkoski chose to, at times, write one paragraph from Arin’s view and the next from Kestrel’s, separating them with one row of blank space. That meant that you as the reader saw the events unfolded from both perspective practically at the same time, but it left me confused at times. Not that I lost track of which character’s thoughts I was following, but rather that it changed so fast so often that I had a hard time gripping at the events that was happening. It felt like we were just jumping back and forth and though I see Rutkoski’s intention and the way she wants to give the reader two views of every situation I found it exhausting at times and would have preferred if Arin got one chapter and Kestrel another, or that they at least would’ve gotten more than a few sentences at a time to explain what was happening and how they felt.
Very few new characters are introduced, which I wasn’t particularly fond of. I wished for the entry of one new, powerful character who could take the story with storm. Instead we’re left with basically the same set as the ones we met in the previous two books. Arin and Kestrel along with Kestrel’s father, the General, the emperor and his son, the queen, prince and princess of Dacra and a few other characters that appears only to disappear again. While I truly loved the prince of Dacra’s involvement – and his sassiness – I got a bit bored when no one new came along to shake things up.
Over all, The Winner’s Kiss was surprisingly more boring than I thought it would be. I was expecting excitement and action, in the same cool, calm style of the previous two books, and while The Winner’s Kiss didn’t lack action, it still manages to fall short. The action scenes never made me fear for the main characters life and I saw through every trick and every scheme to know the outcome before it happened. It was disappointing because I was hoping for something that would sweep me of my feet or make me gasp out loudly, but nothing did.
I still love the story and I’m not angry at how it ended – although I do feel like we were left with quite a few big question marks – but I’m not as happy with it as I hoped in advance. My standard may be high, but so is Rutkoski’s writing, and I expected more from her. I’m certain I will return to this series in the future and that I will read The Winner’s Kiss again, but right at this moment I’m left with a sad feeling that has nothing to do with the fact that the series is over and everything to do with the fact that I expected more and am not entirely pleased. However, I do feel like you should give these books a try because they are good and while not every aspect of the story is new it still sets you up for an entertaining read in a well-crafted world with (mostly) rich characters and fresh writing.
Sixteen year old Avery West has grown up with only her mother at her side and has always wondered about her father, who left them before Avery was born. Little does she know that her father is part of a secret society, called the Circle of Twelve, that basically runs the world, and that Avery herself is the key to an ancient prophecy. That means that if people were to find out who she really is, she’ll either be swept into her father’s world and forced into a marriage she doesn’t want, or she’ll be killed by an opposing secret society by the name the Order. To take charge of her own life, Avery has to search for clues about the past and the prophecy all over Europe in the hope of finding something that can give her the chance to live her life the way she wants to and not as a pawn.
It didn’t take long for me to feel that this book is very unrealistic. Generally, books are fiction and fiction is made up, imagined worlds. Some books are about space travel or worlds that don’t even exists, but The Conspiracy of Us is set in, what I believe is, our day and age. Yet somehow this book was more unrealistic than stories about jumping between parallel dimensions. It wasn’t even the secret society that bothered me, or the conspiracy theories, but the characters and the choices they made, especially Avery. I lifted my eyebrows and frowned at the book numerous times because I just didn’t buy what she did, or how she thought, or the way she reasoned.
At the start of the book, Avery agrees to go with a guy she just met, who also just threatened her with a blade, all the way from Minnesota to Paris to find out something about her father’s family. She’s in a room full of people when the guy, Stellan, brings his knife out, but Avery doesn’t want to “make a scene” by raising her voice and bring attention to them which seems rather backwards to me. She then flies across the Atlantic without knowing anything about Stellan or Jack, a new guy in her school who Avery learns only came to her city to find her for the people he works for, one of the Twelve familes, blindly choosing to trust them when it comes to finding her family. When in Paris, Avery learns that her family isn’t actually there yet but will come in the day after, so she spends the night with the family Stellan works for. After that follows two incredibly crazy days where Avery is at Prada, the store closed solely for her shopping trip, and is almost killed before she decides to go with Stellan and a few other teenagers from the Circle families to Istanbul for a night of clubbing but ends up chasing clues for a mystery with Jack while being chased by people from the Order, yet again coming to kill her. Throughout this Avery stays extremely calm, acts way above her age only to turn around and be extremely childlike the next second. Everyone, especially the Order, seemed to know everything about Avery before she herself did and I can only wonder where that information came from as well as how they knew where she was at all times.
Avery is sixteen and at times I accepted her rash and naïve behavior as something a sixteen year old would do (although I can’t stop thinking that, in this day and age when we’re taught as children to never get into a stranger’s car, it’s mighty weird that Avery thought it okay to fly to another continent with someone who pulled a knife on her five minutes earlier). The next minute, however, I found everything she did to be wrong in every sense. Not something a sixteen year old would do, or think, or assume. It’s like she can’t decide if she’s a child or a grown-up. The whole feeling of the book was childish, and I know it’s supposed to be a YA book, probably for teenagers around sixteen themselves, but it was much more immature than other books in the same age-range that I’ve read before. Flying across Europe in private jets, being chased around by assassins at every corner, trying to solve a puzzle that has apparently gone unnoticed for hundreds of years… and all the killings and all the death right and left – and no one who truly seemed to care one bit. On top of it all, the idea that Avery, sixteen, would be forced into a marriage is ridiculous. I accept that the people in the Circle could put a gun to her head and force her to say yes, but I can’t accept that it would be legal for a sixteen year old to get married, no matter what secret society she belonged to.
There’s a love story as well, between her and Jack, which also seems very rushed. They’ve known each other for a week, or a few weeks, there wasn’t much detail about this, but the entire book only spans across three days and that’s when their love story truly kicks in. It’s very insta-love, very serious and real – the way it is when you're a teenager, and always with this heavy knowledge of it being wrong and that Jack, working for one of the twelve families in the Circle, could be killed if anyone found out about him and Avery. That’s another part of the book that seemed unrealistic – the extreme power the families had, especially over their employees, like Jack. They can be killed right and left for small wrongdoings and while I suppose that’s the life in a powerful secret society, it was written and told in a way that made it hard for me to believe.
I could go on and on about all the unrealistic aspects of the book, like the fact that characters reacted very mildly to death in general, which I found strange, or that Avery was extremely naïve when it came to who the Circle was, what kind of people they were, but instantly accepted that she’s the key to the prophecy very early on, without any real proof. It felt like a lot of things happened in the book because it was convenient and while it’s like that in most books, it’s not supposed to feel that way. I'm not supposed to know that it all was meant to happen this way, I'm supposed to be so caught up in the story I won't even notice the author behind it. I was very aware of Hall in the shadows of this novel. The writing felt rushed as well, with very little details about surroundings and landscapes – except when it was convenient of course. Sometimes I had to go back and reread parts because it felt unclear and I never really felt connected to the characters and their quest.
All in all, it wasn’t a very good book. It all felt like something I’ve read before, especially the characters, and the story was at once too complicated and to unrealistic to do anything for me. The wait has, alas, been in vain. I can’t help hoping that the sequel will be better and I still feel like I want some more answers before I completely give up on Avery’s story so I might just continue with the next book anyway, but if I'd known all I know now before I picked this one up I would've stayed away from it.