Top critical review
Reviewed in the United States on July 11, 2019
A strong start with a somewhat new spin on a dystopian YA book. It has echos of several well known series. The book stays very YA in some respects. Maia is whiney, so brace for that, and her obsession with the person she was supposed to love is juvenile and constantly stated. Honestly, the girl was 9 when her world changes and hadn't even met the guy. Her perfect love BS is ridiculous. The only likable thing about her is the Everly portion of her personality. she's got some grit and doesn't spend all her time complaining and waiting to be rescued. Maia spent years surviving in the pits but magically lacks common sense, fighting ability of any kind, and can't read people. So really not sure how she survived among cannibals and torturers for any length of time. It's not logical at all, but is clearly needed for the plot which then makes the plot feel forced.
I am also disturbed by the emphasis on good women being compassionate and soft rather than capable of defending themselves (apparently only the bad ones can do that). Everly's cool detachment is depicted as worse than Maia's helplessness; the girl who died - can't remember her name - who is soft and not for for the trials gets more scene time than Teagan, whose strength leaps from the page in the few sense we see her. Mama's mom is bad, the prince's fiance is bad, the rebel girl helping Maia is bad...The physically or mentally strong women are crazy, or cruel, or indifferent, or killers. The good ones die or are victims. Neither depiction is complete or accurate.
That is why I give it two stars. I don't think women have to be soft to be good, and I don't think someone survives what Maia survives without gaining some survival instincts. Sacrificing realistic character development for plot is not the way to go.