When twins Carys and Andreus were born the seer predicted that one of them would be cursed and would lead the kingdom down a dark path. Although Andreus was born sickly and struggling to breathe, the queen hid his curse and has relied on Carys to help shield her brother from prying eyes all their lives. Whenever Dreus shows signs of an attack coming on, Carys distracts those around them, even sometimes taking lashings for her disobedient behavior. Carys will not be able to help Dreus hide, however, when the king and their older brother are killed in battle and the Elders decree that the only way to determine who will be the next ruler is for the twins to compete against each other in a series of trials. To the death, if need be. Carys has no desire to rule and the two agree to throw the matches to Dreus but his mind is quickly poisoned by the current Seer who convinces him that Carys is secretly working against him. Now Dreus is willing to anything to ensure he becomes the next monarch.
I have issues. I will begin with my disappointment overall because I really loved The Testing and have had high hopes for this and Need, Charbonneau's previous book. But my hopes have been steadily beaten down to the point where I will probably avoid whatever she writes next and that makes me sad. So let's get into some of this.
First of all, the real conflict and interesting part of the story is the Hunger Game-esque competition between the two main characters but that plot point isn't introduced until 39% into the book. (Yes, I was reading it on my Kindle which is why I know exactly when it happened.) That is so incredibly, hugely, stupidly far into the book to get to the real excitement that I feel sure at least 75% of my students are going to give up a lot earlier. I've successfully pushed books with slow beginnings before but I'm usually able to tell them "Just get through the first chapter and then it will pick up." Talking to you, Black Book of Secrets and even the first Harry Potter. But more than a third of the way in it just too far! I'm trying my darnedest to convince middle schoolers they have time to read and want to read and that's not the way to do it.
Secondly, neither character was appealing. By the end of the book I could mostly feel okay about Carys, but it was a long time coming. She is mean to her subordinates, threatening them for asking her questions and not talking to any of them in any way other than to issue orders. Even her best friend refers to her as "Your Highness". She is also an alcoholic throughout nearly all the book. Eventually her dependence on the Tears of Midnight is explained and then I felt better about it all, but until then - which is almost at the end of the book - she is just a drug addict and we get to see her thought process as she craves her drug. And finally, from a feminist perspective, she's pretty bad at that, too. She has sacrificed herself at every turn to prop up her brother whose main defining characteristics seem to be his breathing problem and his delight in bedding every female in the castle. Oh, and his blind spot when it comes to being used by pretty much everyone around him AND his willingness to completely discard his sister and their plans at the drop of the hat for a new piece of ass. Even after it is clear that Andreus has reneged on their deal and is trying to beat her in earnest, Carys is still making decisions based on protecting him. As I write this, I suspect that as a reader I am supposed to be impressed by her loyalty and selflessness. Instead, I am mad that she doesn't do something for herself.
Finally (I think), I am left with confusion about many plot points. This is obviously a series so of course not everything is given away. However, SOME answers could've been provided. Other than the one person who is obviously using Andreus, I have no clue who else is trying to orchestrate his ascendancy, nor why. I don't know what's happening with the queen. I don't know who murdered the king and the twins' older brother. It's hard for me to be invested in what's going to happen next when I don't know what's already happening. It's clear there are plenty bad guys to go around so hand me a couple of them to seethe over.
I probably have more issues but this already feels like a lot to absorb. I will just also add that the cover of the book is pretty cool, but it seems like it should've been done in blue and yellow to go with the competition colors.