Because of her belief that love is a weakness she cannot afford our main character Ayla keeps everyone at arms length, including the other orphan she has come to see as her brother. I loved their relationship and I thought their disagreements made them feel like siblings, even though he clearly liked her more than that. Ever since Ayla lost her entire family to an Automae raid shes been training with the resistance and biding her time until she can strike back at the Sovereign. Determined to murder his daughter Lady Crier, even if she gets herself killed in the process. Eventually Ayla gets smarter about her plans for revenge, but thats mostly because she cant bring herself to go through with her original plans. While denying her growing feelings for Lady Crier, Ayla uses her new position as her handmaiden to help the resistance defeat a villain who's even more intelligent and sinister than the Sovereign himself.
We get an enemies to lovers dynamic between Ayla and Crier. Having to overcome prejudice and a huge power divide gave the romance a slow build without being super angsty. Despite the obstacles they face, there was something sweet and innocent about their inexperience with having romantic feelings. Im happy we got to follow Criers perspective since her position of power over Ayla might have made me not like her or the romance otherwise. I could see Crier was a kind person who was led astray by the one person she admired above all others. Never cruel but also never questionning the oppresion around her. It took some interactions with new people for her realize that certain attributes doesnt make someone better or more deserving. Automae might be physically stronger and smarter in some ways, but there are many kinds of strength and some knowledge that cant be learned without being felt. I wish we could have gotten more of the Mad Queens fierce and cunning character, especially with her beliefs in equality and positive influence on Crier.
I love revenge stories, but what doesnt work for me is when the main character isnt smart about it or when they plan on dying to achieve that revenge. It just isnt very satisfying for me since I prefer a cunning character who is still alive to gloat over the dead bodies of their enemies. Thats why I was so excited to see her helping the resistance. Their plans would deal a way bigger blow to her enemies than killing one person. The pace was a little slow at times with little advancement in the relationship or the rebellion. I honestly felt like the romance was a bit too much of a slow burn. I wanted more of the characters working together and just being cute, but it took Ayla a long time to see past the pain automae have caused her and see Crier for the person she is. The longer sentences made the writing not flow as well as some other young adult books, but it was still easy to understand. I dont usually mind that type of writing if it pays off with either a rich setting or vibrant characters, but that wasnt really the case with this book.
I tend to love stories with robots and artificial intelligence, but steampunk usually doesnt do much for me which is no fault of the books. This setting was more fantasy than historical so that helped. I enjoyed the bits of history sprinkled throughout and the idea of made objects with special abilities. Since the Automae were very similar to humans I didnt find that aspect of the story as fascinating as it could have been. The most interesting parts were probably the way Automae were created with two human pillars as well as two automae pillars Their need to ingest heartstone everyday was their one major weakness. Their enhanced hearing made some parts of the story a little unbelievable, especially with Ayla spilling secrets in a castle filled with automae who could easily hear her. If I end up picking up the sequel I hope theres more exciting twists and time with the main characters being all romantic.