In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon.
But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.
As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty—and her time with the princess’ fiancé, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection…because one wrong move could lead to her death.
Author: Somaiya Daud
[SPOILER WARNING] Because I can’t control my spoilering while I rant.
Oh and [DISCLAIMER] – I read an advanced reader copy of this book, so my comments and references are to that copy, not necessarily the finished copy. My review was not influenced by this.
Let’s start with one thing: I’m not a huge fan of this book.
That may seem harsh, but if you knew that my review notes on it almost filled a page and only one point out of all of that was even vaguely positive then you might understand.
I had pretty high hopes for it, having seen many good reviews and excitement for anyone who received a proof copy of the book. I know that never guarantees that a book will be good, but it should at least be average if it’s getting that sort of response, right?
The premise was also good: Space colonies on moons. A girl, a native on one of the moons that’s been invaded, turning out to be identical to the Princess of the invading people. She is then kidnapped and forced to be her body double.
It could have been great; court intrigue, lies, space adventures, an intricate world with an interesting history of how we came to be spread across planets and moons.
But instead we got obvious foreshadowing, iffy writing, one dimensional characters, and a meh romance.
My list of what I didn’t like about this book could go on forever, so let’s get the good bits out of the way:
It got better towards the end:
Yeah, that’s all I could come up with. The dialogue starts to flow a little easier, the plot had a little bit of drama, and it didn’t make me want to put it down immediately.
Also the cover is absolutely gorgeous. It had such promise! *shakes fist*
And now on to the bad bits:
The sentence structure was very repetitive through the first chapter of the book, so much so it made me wonder if I’d been reading the same line over and over. And the pacing was pretty fast too: a lot happens with very little exposition.
In one scene the main girl is dancing in a cultural celebration, then suddenly the two girls beside her are named and described as her best friends in the entire world. We never speak to these two, and one of them might be mentioned a single other time. Soon after, one of them is injured, and I honestly couldn’t have cared less.
I mean, surely there’s somewhere in between having half the book be her spending time with and establishing these girls as her friends, and a single cursory mention. Hell, I would have even taken some nice flashbacks of her sneaking out to hang out with them as a bare minimum in this case. But nope.
Even her family gets stuck with the vague barely-there backstory. I forgot the main character had brothers at all for large chunks of time!
The main character trains to mimic the Princess in a very short period of time, or at least it’s shown that way. If we’d maybe seen more tests along the way apart from the one she aced, it might have seemed more tricky and realistic. That or show evidence of her mimicry skills back in her village from when she was younger?
A slower training schedule, maybe with tiny events spacing it out, would have made it more believable that a shy girl from a poor background could so quickly imitate a rude royal so even the Royal family doesn’t know the difference.
MASSIVE info dump issues with places and names and races all thrown in at once. I’d have like to get used to a small group of names before adding in things they were connected to. Eventually I just gave up and blanked them out. E.g. ‘He was the head of the [random family name] family, who lived north of [random capital city].’ and only keeping the basic knowledge that he must be someone important.
There’s a good way of info dumping, not just throwing names at a reader until one sticks. Describe the history of space travel, how the moons came to need terraforming. A history of overcrowding on earth? Why certain cultures spread to certain moons, if any culture mixing occurred originally, because of who was on what spaceships perhaps fleeing Earth? There’s a lot more I want to know about this world, and all I know are a lot of contextless names. Maybe there’ll be more in the sequels?
I know this is the first of a trilogy, so it can’t end all neatly tied up, but the foreshadowing of what happened at the ending was so obvious right from the beginning. That, and it being repeated throughout the book really made it lose any sense of surprise for me which was a shame.
Okay, reading this all back, it does sound a bit like I’m just ranting about this book unfairly. And, to be fair, the difference between a book that I’ll enjoy and one I won’t is a very thin line, so some small changes would have made this so much better. But, honestly, I feel very strongly that some books are published too early; either in a writer’s learning curve, or in the editing process.
This book was one of those to me.
If it had had a little more time or the writer had just written another book between it and any previous drafts, maybe it would have been much more enjoyable.
I’m also never one to hold a grudge, so I’ll happily read anything else this author writes, especially to see them grow in terms of their writing. And so I look forward to the rest of the books in this series, and the final version of this book could have tweaked enough to make a lot of what I’ve written invalid anyway, so I’d recommend giving it a chance.
Onwards and upwards!