I didn't expect to like this book as much as I did. Honestly, after the emotional gutting I went through finishing the Six of Crows duology I wanted something light, with a happy ending, so naturally I ventured into romance to fill that need....
Well, this was NOT the book for that.
BEFORE we get into the bulk of the review I have to say, hearing Inej's voice (the narrator was the same as Inej from the Six Of Crows duology) was equally disconcerting and comforting during the read of this book.
At the beginning I thought Lara, the MC, was a Mary Sue. She was bred and trained to be this amazing spy with all these untouchable combat skills and even was trained in the art of pleasing a man in bed. Immediately I thought... well, is there anything she ISN'T good at and pegged her as a Mary Sue. BUT, the author turned that trope on its head pretty quickly when it became clear she had deep seated emotional issues. She was able, somehow, through her indoctrination to hide away part of her humanity and it's that humanity that becomes her greatest weakness but also gives her the capability to grow and change throughout the novel. I found the longer I listened the more I rooted for her redemption.
There were times that I felt the world-building was a little heavy handed but honestly, it was such a unique concept I'm not sure how else the author would have painted a clear picture for the reader. The romantic plot was fully fleshed out and believable, and Aren surprisingly didn't have a lot of the negative tropes that romantic leads have in Adult Fantasy novels of this nature, so I was pleasantly surprised.
I loved how this book explored women's empowerment throughout the world building, and how the differences between the two nations using women as soldiers in Ithicana and using women as tools in Mar Adrina were a nice way to show how women being incorporated fully into society and within the military could strengthen a nation instead of weakening it. As a subplot I found it entertaining but a little too obvious at times. I mean, I don't like being spoon fed as a reader so there were times the author could have been a little more subtle.
Honestly, I can't wait to read the next one. Even though it ended on a cliffhanger, and I tend not to like those endings, I found myself wanting more instead of becoming frustrated. Well done.