Everything about the cover of Secondborn by Amy A. Bartol screams “romance novel” to me, but since I knew I hadn’t downloaded any romances in pretty much…years, I assumed this had to be fantasy or sci-fi. The first page confirms this as we are introduced to Roselle, the main character, as she prepares to be transitioned from a somewhat pampered life to that of a soldier.
The main premise of this story is fascinating – only firstborn children are given a place in society and become actual citizens, able to inherit their parents’ property, wealth, and status. Secondborn children become the property of the government and assigned to become soldiers or servants of the firstborn. Thirdborn children are killed, along with their parents. Regions are divided in this story into “Fates” and there are many of them: the Fate of Swords, Fate of Stars, Fate of Diamonds, Fate of Clovers, etc. (Probably not that last one, although there are SO MANY that I rapidly lost track.) The author immediately introduces a ridiculous number of characters and goes into some detail about their Fate and their backstory. The next half of the book is spent following Roselle as she becomes a soldier (as she is Secondborn, as the title suggests) and she interacts with far too many of these characters to follow. At one point I considered creating a spreadsheet to try and keep track of everyone, but I wasn’t invested enough to care.
Amy A. Bartol has a good grasp of characterization and I didn’t dislike Roselle (despite constantly being told how beautiful she was – yawn) or her eventual love interest. Bartol actually does a brilliant job with the main antagonist, a creepy character named Kipson Crow. Except for moments of action, I found myself bored with most of the story and kept reading mainly to get to the scenes where Roselle interacts with Crow, who seems the embodiment of a bloodthirsty zealot from the Dark Ages with his need to torture Roselle, both figuratively and literally. Some of the supporting characters are well done, including Roselle’s vicious mother, who tries to have her not-so-subtly killed in order to secure Roselle’s older brother’s place as her successor.
There are quite a few action scenes in Secondborn and some of this book is reminiscent of The Hunger Games or similar dystopian novels, with a screwed-up society that needs to be destroyed in order to bring about a more equitable balance. I only wish she hadn’t spent the first 50 percent of the novel introducing us to every character that Roselle ever met, and inducting her into her soldierly life. It was fairly boring reading until about the ¾ mark when the author finally stops introducing people and settles into moving the plot along.
I didn’t hate Secondborn, but I also didn’t like it enough to bother with the sequel. If you have more patience than I do, it might be a worthwhile read.
Characters: 3/5 (this would be higher if there weren’t SO FREAKING MANY of them) – Story: 4/5 (antagonist who?) – Science: 5/5 (I loved the gadgets, and there are many) – Setting: 3/5 – Action: 4/5 – Pacing: 1/5 – Worldbuilding: 3/5
I wish he wouldn’t take this personally, but he has. He lowers his eyelids and puckers his mouth. I kick him in the side and block his sword as it descends from above my head. My kick moves him into position in front of me, and I swing my fusionblade across my body from right to left. At the last possible second before striking, I loosen my grip. The blade extinguishes as I sweep it across his body. Everyone cries out, certain that they’ll see him fall to pieces. My grip tightens again once the blade has cleared his body, the move so quick it creates the illusion that my sword passed right through him.