Summary from Goodreads:
Downton Abbey meets The Selection in this dystopian tale of love and betrayal
In a fragmented future United States ruled by the lavish gentry, seventeen-year-old Madeline Landry dreams of going to the university. Unfortunately, gentry decorum and her domineering father won’t allow that. Madeline must marry, like a good Landry woman, and run the family estate. But her world is turned upside down when she discovers the devastating consequences her lifestyle is having on those less fortunate. As Madeline begins to question everything she has ever learned, she finds herself increasingly drawn to handsome, beguiling David Dana. Soon, rumors of war and rebellion start to spread, and Madeline finds herself and David at the center of it all. Ultimately, she must make a choice between duty – her family and the estate she loves dearly – and desire.
Well, I love Downton Abbey, and I liked The Selection Series, so I figured I’d give this book a shot. And I was pleasantly surprised, I liked this book a lot more than I thought I would! Though it was full of “I saw that coming” moments, it was done in such a way that I was not disappointed when I guessed right, but relieved that it did in fact happen. It’s a lot more complex that it appears on the surface, and that’s what really made this book stand out. The characters were well formed and nuanced, and the underlying message of the story was a great one. I am certainly planning on continuing this series and am looking forward to see what lies ahead for the main characters.
The main character, Madeline was much deeper than I expected. She’s smart, independent, and has strong opinions. She’s fighting for the life she wants and against the life she is expected to lead – while being torn about leaving behind her family’s estate, which she loves, for the chance to forge her own path. While she’s trying to deal with her parents and the expectations of being an Heir to the most prominent estate in the gentry class, she is being pushed into society and into the arms of eligible bachelors.
I really enjoyed the romance of this story, it was very Mr. Darcy / Elizabeth Bennett. David Dana, a rich, single, and landless gentry boy is the ideal match for many of the gentry girls in Kansas City. And before formal introductions he and Madeline have several run-ins where she tries to deny her instant attraction to him based on his arrogant and stereotypical gentry bachelor persona. As they spend more time together though, she starts to see another side of him, a sharp, witty, brave, and opinionated side that mirrors her own questions about the social norms they are expected to hold up and the treatment of the Rootless class – who are forced to work the most dangerous job of society with little compensation.
Of course, Madeline’s childhood nemesis, Cara, gets in the way and she and David become the “it couple.” While they are supposed to be dating though, David constantly flirts with Madeline and in several instances shows more concern for her than his supposed girlfriend. Confused about David’s feelings, Madeline soon finds herself in the clutches of David’s best friend, Jude, who is charming and quite eleigible. Obviously, he and Cara were together as a sham to fool certain individuals who posed a threat to David’s undercover work with the Rootless, and Cara’s abusive relationship with her overbearing mother – but it shows how careful David is, how protective of people, and dedicated to making a change. Also it highlights the underlying uncertainly David and Madeline feel about each other. David isn’t sure he can trust Madeline with all of his secrets because of who her family is, and is scared of how strong his feelings are towards her while he is still trying to figure out his own place in the world – a great point! Madeline has some of the same issues, and I think it shows a lot of maturity from both the author and the characters that the two of them don’t get involved until the end when they have decided their own paths into their societies future.
The real action of the story that underlies the fancy life of Madeline, and her complicated romance with David and other suitors, is the question of the social construct of the caste system. Madeline shows doubts about her place in society, her fathers deep hatred and fear of the Rootless, and her own feelings towards the Rootless from the beginning. Her questions only grow after meeting David and she soon learns that there is a much darker reason behind the Rootless’ social position than she thought, and she learns how much influence and positive change she can exact if she is brave enough. She feels a deep sense of guilt as to their position in life, and struggles to fight the ideas that have been pumped into her since birth about the way society should function between the different social groups. All of these thoughts, I think, are something we still struggle with in society still, and it brings up a lot of great questions.
Overall, I really enjoyed the story. I’m looking forward to seeing how Madeline and David move forward in their relationship, what happens with the social structure, and how the changes will affect the lifestyle that Madeline is accustomed to in the following book(s).