This assumption comes from me straight out of the water but I presume that you, someone competent enough to make use of a computing device, is far too mature to get grossed out by the simple concept of princesses.
Yet, sadly, this was the case for me, when I picked up this book for the first time at the tender age of eleven. I was barely in sixth grade, was in no place to be trying to conform my tastes in literature to fit the masses of my accelerated class, and entirely skeptical. In fact, the only reason I even own a copy of this novel (in paperback, of course, I was a cheapskate) is because I had a little extra money at the time and couldn't immediately think of anything else to spend it on.
Once I got through the first chapter, however, I found the error in my ways. And I found not only that, but I found an interesting, relatable, and inspiring main character, as well as two love interests that were a few inches short of ideal, and a great deal of things that I notice each time I read this book. This book, to me, is kind of like Star Wars--it is a thing of comfort, to be picked up on a rainy day. When I read this in public, I hold the cover in front of my chest proudly, as if to say, yes, someone who insists on using 'they' pronouns is reading a book with a girl wearing a pretty dress on the cover.
If you overlook the flaws (which someone like myself is very eager to find in absolutely everything), you'll most likely think this book as delightful as I did. (And, believe me, in terms of things that can cheer you up after you've sobbed for hours and hours under a thick pile of quilts, this is up there.)
America Singer is a patchwork of all the things I admire in people. Tenacity, passion, hope, determination, and most important of all, a cool-ass name. Even into the points where she's so incredibly focused on romantic love, and indecisive to an almost intolerable degree, I find her actions and decisions not just impulsive, but perfect. Most people I know that would get impatient with her are all far too eager to group her into the 'crazy bitch' category, and, honestly, I've started to realize that anyone not in that category, by at least one person's standards, isn't worth their salt.
And here's the thing--I don't relate to her at all. I truly, honestly, wish I could.
I doubt there are many more fictional characters I find as awesome as I find America Singer.
But, hey, this novel has much, much more than an incredible main character. It's got frustrating side ones as well. Personally, because I'm not alloromantic, neither Maxon nor Aspen ever appealed to me, but hey, they were going up against an impossible standard anyways. Beyond their romantic appeal, you have to truly look hard for anything appealing in these characters, but I feel like I've found it.
Let's start with Aspen, shall we? For one thing, I will say this: he's almost as determined as America is, but in a way that's a little bit more creepy. Throughout the novel, his actions kind of freaked me out, to be honest. He's all too eager to beg and manipulate--things that not only repulse me but remind me why I can only take so much romance before the aro in me kicks in and starts barfing.
But, I will say this: Cass has that feeling of nostalgia you'd find in childhood friends down. I thoroughly appreciated America's own narration of her life--feelings for Aspen included. It felt very real and very raw. Though I'm not like America and I'm nowhere near finding Aspen as appealing as she did, I can at least attempt to empathize with her, and apply those feelings of pain and memories--so well described, I might add--to other things. That might even be part of what fuels America's determination to fight for herself, and, even if I can't understand any of the reasons America says she's in love with him, I can at least see the effect of that love on the character and her development through the story, and it's as in-depth and heartwrenching as any first-love story could be.
Maxon is a little different. (I can't stand all of these stupid red lines all over my draft, so let's just call him 'Max.')
So, at the beginning of this book, America keeps emphasizing how fake and still Max looks all the damn time, and, when she actually meets him, I have a hard time telling the difference. Yeah, that genuine-ness is in there somewhere, but all these secret meetings and conversations that I've heard described as 'authentic' really don't seem all that to me.
And, yes, I am aware of the fact that the main point of this subplot was to get me to ship the two of them, but I just don't see it. Perhaps I'm just fishing around for a platonic ship for me to latch onto and actually fully comprehend, but I think they would have fared far better in a close friendship than in a full-on romantic...well...thing. Even at the end, I haven't come an inch closer to seeing it. Nor do I give a damn if they actually get married. Sorry.
All of that being said, a best-friend candidate can still manage to be somewhat cute. (I'd appreciate if you made the distinction: I am unable to comprehend "hypothetical-boyfriend" cute. I am, however, fairly familiar with the kind of cuteness you'd find in abundance around kittens.) Moments that involved a little bit of awkwardness or bonding always managed to be quite cute, and some of these moments even involved me squealing and curling into a blanket, like in sixth grade, all over again.
Also, awkwardness is a good sort of relief, and when the tension was getting too high, I was grateful for the moments Cass chose to sprinkle with a misstep or Max's panic at the sight of displays of human emotion. There are dark elements to this novel, and as I have read the next two books, I've realized that they don't tend to gravitate more towards sunshine as the series progresses, especially considering the reality in which all of these characters are living. Any comic relief, especially when it has to do with this looming love triangle, is a good thing, and the abundance of it in this novel has yet to go unnoticed.
Now, on to the main reason I loved this damn thing: the politics.
You'd think, in a fantasy world that involved royalty, the author would use that as a cop-out and not explain any of the history to us. But, no, Cass did not disappoint. I loved the building suspense, especially when it came to how the rebel attacks were orchestrated and how Max had started theorizing about hypothetical different groups. This book doesn't shy away from how this country actually treats its citizens, in fact, it used it to its advantage and earned Max a few more cuteness points through actions that I cannot disclose in a spoiler-free review.
I will say one more thing regarding the depth of this novel's politics: all the subtle similarities in this fictional country to the United States, in real life, are as chilling as ever. (I bet in 2013, the backstory is exactly how most of us Americans thought we were going to go.) You've got a nationwide obsession with media, rigid social castes (those actually do exist. college is expensive as hell, and it's no coincidence that there's a clear education performance gap between rich kids and poorer ones.), and monolithic government figures. (May I remind you of Turtle Man McConnell?)
There are numerous references to the "Old America" in this novel, but I'm probably not the first person to notice that this isn't all that different. And that's probably how this thing might even be as menacing as any other dystopian novel. Not only do you have the base appeal of royalty and a love story, but you have something much, much darker hiding underneath: a deeply broken republic.
god, i love this book.