SECONDBORN by Amy Bartol
Verdict: Hard to connect.
Although Rosella is royalty, she is also secondborn in a society that only has room for firstborns. At eighteen, Rosella's rights are stripped, her last name is changed to 'Sword', and she is sent to the front line to serve her country.
This one started strong and had a lot of creatives little ideas - the black and red disks for the medical bots, the fusion blades, the secondborns' surnames changed to 'Sword' - but it never really set itself apart from the dystopian mass in terms of plot, characters, and setting. At times it felt like the Capital in Hunger Games: blue lips, interviews with a girl sent off to die, special outfits designed for the occasion, face of the rebellion...Other times, it felt all over the place, and it never really came together to form a coherent story.
Things kept happening that didn't fully make sense. For example, Rosella's mother orders her to die, but once she escapes the building, life goes on as if the last scene didn't happen. It reminded me of GTA video game mechanics - stay low, and your star rating will drop, and the police will no longer care that you just ran someone over. Another nonsensical example is how all the soldiers are supposed to get a hair cut, but not Rosella, because someone decided they liked her hair. I can't even work out why that was in there - it just felt odd.
One more example. I never really understood why Agent Crow was allowed to murder and torture people. I know secondborns were supposed to have fewer rights, but I found it hard to believe he could get away with the things he did. While his steel teeth and lust for torture paint a fearful picture, I never understood his interest in Rosella, either.
Most of all, I struggled to connect with Rosella. At times, she was an emotionless robot, only doing what she's been programmed to do. I get that this is somewhat on purpose - that Rosella's secondborn upbringing has taken the fight out of her - but it would be easier to connect to the book if Rosella still had emotions in these scenes. Or the echo of these emotions. Perhaps her anger or regret was being pushed down, but it was still there, or she openly despises herself for pleasing them, or that she used to feel humiliated but now is numb. Instead, she seems happy to be a robot, and yet lashed out at other times. I couldn't work out her character.
Other bits started to put me off towards the middle of the book. The whole 'let's make a weapon sexy' was plain cringy, and felt very low key for a plot point so far into the novel. A year then passed with nothing happening, meaning the tension leaked of the story entirely. After that, it just never peaked. I'd struggle to write a full synopsis for this books, as nothing stood out. Things happening here and there, and eventually it ended.
I felt excited for this book at first, and a lot seemed to happen at the start, but I lost interest around halfway. It has some creative world-building concepts in it, but the story didn't stand out enough for me.
Source: Kindle lending library.