This isn't my usual YA, but I did enter Goodreads First Reads competition to win it, and I did really want to read it. Oh my god, I took FOREVER to read this book but I swear it's not a reflection on the book's quality, believe me! I had a really good time when I was reading this book, I've just had THE WORST YEAR for reading. I started reading this is August 2016 after winning it on Goodreads in 2014 (BAD NEMO) and my other review books kept getting in the way, then this year happened and my life went to hell in a hand basket, but when I did have the energy to read this book I adored the chemistry between the PTSD-suffering sex assassin and the sexy, sensitive disabled ruler she's sent to murder. So let me tell you a bit about it.
Vitala is half Kjallan and half Riorcan, and her loyalties lie with Riorca, a country under the oppressive rule of the Kjallan emperor. Using her looks and skills at a chess-like game called Cataranga, Vitala infiltrates the emperor's inner circle and is about to use the only magic that can kill the magically-protected emperor when he is betrayed by an underling. Now Lucien is at her mercy, Vitala realises that it's in Riorca's best interest to get Lucien back on the throne, and through trials, politics, and acts of war with a sprinkling of romance, the two attempt to do just that.
Vitala was an interesting heroine. A lot of people complain about how she didn't kill her mark, but she was smart enough to questions her orders and not follow them blindly, finding another way to attempt peace and freedom for her people. Also, where is the conflict if you write "After years of training, she killed her target, and she was OK with that, the end"? She suffers from PTSD due to her training and starts the novel off thinking sex is just a tool to help her kill her marks. With Lucien's help, she comes to realise sex is so much more.
Lucien is a disabled man in an alpha male's role, and learning to come to terms with his leadership in a society that celebrates physical prowess over intelligence, skill and cunning. Lucien is far more sensitive and gentle than the emperor whose throne he inherited, but still carries his authority, and as Vitala discovers this, she figures out he's not the tyrant she's been led to believe he is. Lucien has his own troubles to deal with and doesn't always treat Vitala with the patience and respect she deserves, but they tackle their conflicts in the best way they're equipped to.
I liked the writing. I didn't find it too flowery or sparse. I did have problems remembering all of the world building but I read this over the course of more than a year (which was entirely my own fault) and I think if someone read it faster they could probably do a better job of remembering ranks and countries and all that stuff. I found Vitala's PTSD very believable, and I know firsthand what PTSD is like. I also found Lucien's attitudes refreshing.
I don't know if the pacing was my problem because once I was reading it I didn't want to put it down, but equally I had little initiative to pick it back up again. I think since I knew it was always going to be there waiting for me and like most assassin romances the plot was pretty predictable, but I really did enjoy it while I was reading. Vitala and Lucien's chemistry was off the charts and I very nearly dog-eared some pages to re-read at some point (WHO DOG-EARS THEIR PAGES YOU MONSTER?).
Overall I think if you're open minded, give the book time to show you that Vitala has PTSD rather than losing patience with her struggle and coping mechanisms (I will mention that she is raped and she tries to dismiss it as a minor discomfort, this is so she can deal with the assault and concentrate on murdering her attacker, not to say that rape is actually a minor discomfort), and realise that it's an assassin romance and the romance is written right there in the blurb, you'll probably enjoy the book as much as I did.