Having read this book, I can say it did suck me in for a good portion of it. It took me awhile to get into it, especially because I didn't know where it was going, but it made enough sense in the end why Eleanor was picked and for what. Some parts may have been overly long, but overall it was a fairly fastpaced adventure with a lot going on.
There were a few common writing problems this book suffered from that struck me immediately and made it harder for me to get into at the start. One is the "protagonist centered universe". Eleanor, for example, wasn't given the job she wanted because of her attitude. I believe we're supposed to take her side because she's worked so hard, but no one wants to work with someone who has a bad attitude, so I don't really take her side. The only reason we would take her side on that is <I>because</I> she's the protagonist. The exact same character from a different point of view could easily be painted as a villain: "She works so hard and is talented, but her personality..."
My initial impression in this book was not just that Eleanor didn't agree with the system, but that of the people she lived with her entire life she didn't trust any of them enough to speak in private. It's one thing to put on a face in front of officials, but it's another when the main character can't have a real, private conversation with anyone she's lived with her entire life. Surely she's not the only one who ever has different thoughts? Little things like that left me feeling like she almost had disdain for the people she grew up with.
I had several little issues at the beginning, but I think the biggest was Eleanor's sudden fame. After she leaves the school she starts pick-pocketing, and eventually gets caught. In a panic, she pulls a knife on a guy then immediately runs away. This seemingly makes her incredibly famous across cities (note: she doesn't use the knife, she just got scared and pulled it out). I had some issues with that.
1. Is there no other crime going on at all that's more worthy of note? Really? Why are people being assigned as police in different places if this is the most noteworthy crime happening? So much so that word of her spreads to other cities in a flash about the "assassin".
2. Everyone will recognize her because she has red hair. Are there really no other women with red hair in the world? How did she end up with red hair if no one else has red hair? I know some hair colors are more common than others, but even if only 1% of the population has red hair, that still means that there would be a few dozen others running around that city. Not to mention there are simple ways to disguise hair color.
Now, I know the guy recognized the knife she had, but the amount of fame she got for this seemed ridiculous, and it also seemed weird how fast word spread of the non-incident. They sail for weeks/months and they're still worried about her being recognized in some far away land. She didn't do anything worthy of note. It felt too forced.
Now, beyond that, there's a lot that happens in this story and it's a pretty decent read. At times I was lost on what the characters were supposed to be accomplishing (for example, when she's at the Academy, I have no idea what they were trying to accomplish by drugging her and holding her hostage. I was never clear on that, especially when they're upset that she escaped). When I set it aside and just assumed that they must have been trying to do something productive, the story moved along fine.
I found the relationship between her and Raf fairly believable. They went through a lot together, so it made sense. I predicted he would come back the next year, but that was all right.
At times Eleanor could be frustrating. At one point she wondered Raf might be hiding from her and why. At the same time, she was hiding information from him, so it was hypocritical, and she didn't even think of this when she was wishing he would trust her. She wasn't trusting him, either.
There were also other points that felt forced. For example, at the Academy another student, Jorge, goes out of his way to try and kill her more than once. In front of people. For some reason Eleanor gets labeled as the crazy one, though. Why? Other people are there to witness what happened, so why would she be written off as crazy? Do they really find it acceptable for another student to attempt to choke her in the middle of lessons? Or for that same student to stalk her with a pair of knives and demand a fight? They would also have seen her try to walk away several times before scaring him off. There was absolutely no reason why they held these things against her instead of him. It was like she needed to feel left out for drama, and that was the only reason for them to be against her instead of him.
There's also a point when she overhears Ivan scheming with Jorge, and she goes through a list of people and reasons why she can't talk to them. She completely forgets Laban. During the second half of the book, after a certain point, he mostly disappears, and she never tries to bring any of these things to his attention even though she knows him and he's on the council.
I actually liked that she laughed off her wounds and focused on more important things. At one point she looks at a mirror and wonders when "her changed features had stopped horrifying her", but this is a case of being told and not shown. She worried about how she looked about once in the book, and otherwise laughed it off.
There were also times when I was waiting for her to fix things but instead they just fell in place for her. For example, towards the end, she beat one of her other classmates on a test by essentially cheating off of him. When she tells this to them, they're understandably upset at her. Instead of trying to do anything to sort things out with them, she mostly mopes or hangs out with the other boys (that they don't like). I know she's had an experience with Raf that would make her close to him, but there's no reason why she should snub the people she's been with for a year, especially when they have reason to be upset. I was waiting for her to tell Laban or someone else on the council, and then bring it back to them and inform them that she had told the council in order to at least try to make things right with them. Instead, she let's them be mad at her without any attempts to fix the situation, and things just sort of fall in place for her and they forgive her. I wanted her to be more proactive about things like that. I would have loved to see her work more on getting along with people. Joke about the way Daniel is a "smug bastard" or something.
And one last thing that I noticed that bothered me: at the end of the book she distances herself from Raf and thinks that he's "just like the others from Venncastle". It's fine for her to argue with him and disagree with him, and get mad about the things she got mad about, but this made no sense. She had previously overheard Ivan and Jorge talking, and she heard them talk about how Raf was rooting for her instead of him. <I>She knows</I> already that they believe Raf is on her side. I didn't see any reason why she suddenly lumped him in with the rest of them. It made sense to be awkward around him or try to avoid him, but not to suddenly act like "all people from Venncastle are scum" or something.
There were very minor errors in this book. First paragraphs weren't indented, and once in awhile there would be a missing word or quote:
<I>Even now they were older, most of the girls wouldn't venture beyond the first few trees.
"And thank you all for coming.
...the girl can make good on her promise to drive all your custom away.</I>
Overall it was written well, though, and errors were few and far between.
I think Daniel actually ended up being my favorite character. Although he was smug and stubborn, he stuck to his beliefs. I was glad he ended up on the council as well. A lot of the other students I didn't get too much from beyond "they're from Venncastle" or "they're not from Venncastle".
I really wasn't sure what rating to give this, because for a good portion of it I was reading quite happily, but there were definitely parts that frustrated me, and it took awhile for me to get into it. I saw another reviewer thought it slowed down when they got to the Academy. I can see what they mean, but it still read fine for me at that point. I didn't think it slowed down too much, and I at least liked reading about Daniel and the way he interpretted things differently. It was only awhile after they got to the Academy that it slowed down a lot for me.
So I think it is an enjoyable read, but I settled on my score because there were a lot of things that bothered me and it did take up a good portion of the book.