Normally I like to review each book in a series separately as they can all bring something different to the work overall and so deserve to have their own post. However, I've selected (sorry) to review The Selection as a series because I don't want people to read my review of the first book and dismiss it overall - this series is so much more than the sum of its parts.
IT IS VERY IMPORTANT YOU READ THIS THROUGH TO THE END. Please.
Plot summary: Thirty-five beautiful girls. Thirty-five beautiful rivals…
It’s the chance of a lifetime and 17-year-old America Singer should feel lucky. She has been chosen for The Selection, a reality TV lottery in which the special few compete for gorgeous Prince Maxon’s love.
Swept up in a world of elaborate gowns, glittering jewels and decadent feasts, America is living a new and glamorous life. And the prince takes a special interest in her, much to the outrage of the others.
Rivalry within The Selection is fierce and not all of the girls are prepared to play by the rules. But what they don’t know is that America has a secret – one which could throw the whole competition… and change her life forever.
I know, alright? I'm not normally one for books with swoopy dresses on the cover and the summary didn't really sell it to me either. I can't remember why I even bought this in the first place, but it doesn't matter - DO NOT JUDGE THIS BOOK (you know, like I did). The Selection, the first book, is more or less what it says above. The plot revolves around America, who is part of a competition to win the heart of the Crown Prince, Maxon. There's some sort of rebellion going on in the background, but I'd say it's 97% about the girls and their dresses as it's never really mentioned what they're rebelling against. It's fluffy and twee... and yet strangely enthralling.
It doesn't help that America isn't so great herself. She's very whiny, preachy and ungrateful, snivelling about how she doesn't want to be there but then doing a poor job of showing it by rolling around in her luxourious sheets. This happens a lot in YA books, I think - authors want their female protagonists to be strong-willed and independant, but they go too far the other way and end up being bitchy and horrible people.
The Independance Ship sailed when she didn't immediately slap Aspen Leger but spent the entire book shouting at Maxon. It's very frustrating when a character has two choices of men and it's incredibly obvious which one she should pick. One is a Prince who loves her for some unfathomable reason, despite her generally being horrible to him, and the other broke up with you after abusing you for making him a picnic because he's A Man and should be The Provider. Garrgh.
I really did like America and Maxon's relationship though. It was maybe a little Insta-lovey on his side (I admit that might be because I don't understand what he'd see in her) but it's refreshing to see a series where the main couple are friends first. It's just nice. They seem to have genuine, unforced rapport and I desperately needed them to get together. If only it were that simple.
I finished The Selection on the way to go book shopping in Chesterfield with Ellie and my explanation of my feelings were convoluted to say the least. "It's so bad... but I think I like it? Should I buy the next book? I can't decide. It's not very good, but it's so good!"
In the end it was irrelevant because the bookshop didn't have it in stock. However, over time my irritations with The Selection faded and I was only left with memories of the good parts and a burning desire to know what happened. It has its faults and it's light-reading, but at the same time it really does draw you in and make you care.
Quite obviously, I ended up buying The Elite and reading it almost immediately. Let me just point out that I never do this; I never read books in a series right after each other. It's a miracle if I read them in the same damn year. And yet I did. Immediately.
It just didn't feel like the second installment of a trilogy. We all know the usual drill - the first book sets the scene in the dystopian society and ends with the characters running away, the second book has them trailing boringly through woods/deserts/rebel camps and the third is basically all-out war. Not here - Kiera Cass has broken the mould. I actually love that the competition is still ongoing, that it's in the same place with the same women. Why fix what isn't broken?
It starts to get a whole lot darker and less about the competition - we're now at probably 65% competition and 35% rebellion. I was nowhere near as annoyed with this one as I was with The Selection (except the few places where America made me want to hurl my Kindle across the room) and I was able to confidently assert that I really liked it, without the doubt that shadowed the first.
It's not perfect. America is actually more annoying than in the first book -"Hey America, please don't do this - I'll get in trouble." "Okay." *waddles off and does it anyway.* ARGH. She absolutely 100% makes up her mind to be with one person, but then turns around and makes exactly the same decision about the other person! That said, she does have her moments - I loved when she ran defiantly towards Marlee - that was actually the right thing to do and it was beautifully written.
Aspen, however, does not redeem himself in any way ever. "You don't fit in here, he doesn't love you, you wouldn't make a good princess..." He's not an even remotely viable love interest... although I admit I might feel that way because Maxon is written so well. His background is explored a little more in The Elite and, while it's not pleasant, it makes him into a loveable, fully-fleshed out character to firmly root for.
In fact, I was so desperate for the series to end the 'right' way that I actually had to research the ending before I'd let myself buy The One. I honestly couldn't have brought myself to read it otherwise.
I loved this book. It really is just that simple. We've now decreased to the competition taking up 20% or so of the plot (if that), but I cared as much about that as I did the rebellion and everything else.
That's just it - I cared about everything. Yes, America is stupid and Aspen is awful but it just didn't matter. Maxon and his parents were such real characters that I felt as if everything that happened affected me personally. I welled up more than once because it was so moving, although I do admit to being a slight wuss in general.
Usually the first book in a series is the best and it goes downhill until the third book consists of just some anti-climactic fighting in some rebel camp. It's the exact opposite here - The One is clearly, clearly the best. I know this because I had to skimread a whole chapter because I was that desperate to get to the end - I went back and read it properly later but I just needed to KNOW!
"But there must be something more we can do," Maxon insisted.
"You've already done something pretty empowering. Well, she did," August said, dipping his head in my direction. "From what we're able to tell, farmers are keeping their axes with them if they leave their fields, seamstresses walk the street with scissors clutched in their hands, and you'll see Twos parading around with disarming spray. No matter the caste, everyone seems to have found some way to arm themselves, just in case. Your people don't want to live in fear, and they're not. They're fighting back."
It still has its faults - the ending wasn't as in-depth as I'd have liked, but it was climactic and exciting regardless. America's relationship with the other girls was a little cliched in this book which I don't really see was necessary. I will give it points for not pulling any punches though, as for a YA novel, this is fairly brutal. People die and there is some reasonably graphic violence. We're not talking guts and entrails here, but it's not what I'd have expected from the cover.
The acknowledgements section begins 'Can you just put your hand on the page and pretend I'm giving you a high five? Seriously. How else do I thank you for reading my books?' I did that. I genuinely and literally put my hand on my Kindle screen and high-fived The One. Just because Kiera Cass asked me to. That's how much I loved this.
Conclusion: The Selection series has a twee premise but if you can accept that and just roll with it, this is a brilliant series. It steadily picks up power from book to book, resulting in The One which was actually just short of wonderful. There are many faults throughout, but they're overshadowed by genuine realistic relationships and characters I really cared about. It's just good.
This book was:
So, The Selection - the biggest surprise of 2014!