This book starts out really well. Alexa is the most skilled member of the prince's guard, forced to hide her gender or risk being thrown into the breeding house, continually raped until the day she dies. The first half of this book is wonderful. We get to see the cruel reality of the world Alexa lives in, get an insight into her past, and are treated to many instances of her kicking some serious ass. She is strong, independent, and a fantastically admirable heroine. Many other reviewers have compared her to Mulan and I would agree that, yes, for this part of the story it is very easy to see the similarities. Unfortunately, this does not last for long.
Any and all comparison to Mulan pretty much dies when the love triangle rears its ugly head and the story falls apart. Somehow, the love interests totally hijack the story and turn Alexa into a sobbing, whiney, weak, confused mess. That is not to mention the fact that neither of them seem worth the trouble at all. The prince demonstrates again and again that he is a liar, and if you cannot trust someone how in the world can you love them? Rylan, while clearly a better choice, is all but ignored by Alexa throughout almost the entire story. She doesn't seem to care at all that he is attractive, skilled, NOT a liar, and truly cares for her. I understand, Alexa is a teenager and hormones and all that, but it is like the first and second halves of the book are about completely different people. I suppose you could argue that Alexa, after all she has been through, is a different person, but that does not make the situation any less frustrating to read. This section of the book made me dislike Alexa a good bit, so much that I almost did not finish reading the book at all. The story felt scattered and slow, and it isn't until about 75% of the way through that Alexa gets her life together and we get to see more of her fighting skills.
The last 25% of the book attempts to return Alexa and the plot to the roots set down at the beginning, which is a total relief. Unfortunately, it is too little too late. For me, Alexa as a fighter was already ruined by this point, so while I did appreciate the combat scenes and I liked the pace the author set, I just did not care what happened to her. The ending wraps up well with no huge cliffhangers, but is a little too cheesy for my taste.
I would recommend this book to people who enjoyed "Throne of Glass", as I had the same issues with both books. The plots claim to be about badass fighting heroines, but then completely derail and focus almost entirely on the romance and love triangles. I can only hope that the next book in this series improves, as did the "Throne of Glass" series, and focuses more on Alexa's fighting skills than it does on which boy toy she has chosen to play with for the day.