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Second Child Syndrome

Being the second child doesn’t come with the usual perks in the first book in Amy A. Bartol’s new dystopian series, Secondborn.

Second Child Syndrome

BOOK REPORT for Secondborn (Secondborn #1) by Amy A. Bartol

Cover Story: Roses are Red(dish)
BFF Charm: Maybe
Swoonworthy Scale: 5
Talky Talk: Dystopian
Bonus Factor: Shades of Hunger Games
Factor: Series Starter
Relationship Status: Mixed Feelings

Cover Story: Roses are Red(dish)

Roses—particularly red ones—are a thematic element of Secondborn, thanks to the main character’s name, Roselle. So this cover is fitting, if not all that indicative of the plot. (You know, aside from the spoilers in the tagline …)

The Deal:

Roselle St. Sismode is the secondborn child of the leader of the Fate of Swords, the second most powerful region in all the Fates. She’s grown up in luxury, but now that she’s turning 18, she can no longer avoid her secondborn fate: becoming a soldier of the Swords military and cutting ties to her family. However, Roselle is unlike most secondborns. For one, she’s transitioning to her new life much later than the rest. And for two, she’s famous: her whole youth was recorded and televised; her childhood was spent as a propaganda tool.

Roselle resigns herself to a life of service, but the various players in the Fates’ political games have other plans for her—some good, some bad, all not really taking into consideration what Roselle wants.

BFF Charm: Maybe

The caste system in Secondborn is pretty severe. So were I to not be a soldier in the Swords’ military, I likely would never run into Roselle. Also, as an only child, I’d be one of the privileged elite, and probably a terrible person because of it. (Most of the firstborns we meet in Secondborn are your typical spoiled brats.)

However, were our life paths to coincide, I think I’d want to be friends with Roselle, even though she’d intimidate the crap out of me. Because of her upbringing, she’s extremely poised, enviably confident, and has serious skills with a fusionblade (like a lightsaber) that rival even people titled “master.” She’s also SUPER pretty, which is mentioned frequently. But she seems like a nice enough girl, and is willing to go to great lengths for her friends, sometimes even when that means putting herself in harm’s way. I wouldn’t want to ask a friend to do such a thing, but knowing that they would is a definite check in the pro column.

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

There’s a good amount of chemistry between Roselle and a certain gentlemen she meets early on in the book, but it too quickly verges from strong attraction to love. Amy A. Bartol tries to explain it away from instalove, but it’s more tell than show, and it lessens the swoon quite a lot.

Talky Talk: Dystopian

Secondborn doesn’t take place after an apocalyptic event changed the world—as far as I could tell, the society has always been the way it is—but it’s definitely a dystopian novel. The caste system, the way the regions of the world are ruled, the lack of free will, the televised deadly sporting events, all add up to a society that seems to run smoothly, on the surface, but underneath there’s a rebellion brewing that promises to shake everything up. It’s a familiar tale (see Bonus Factor, below), but not a non-entertaining one.

I do wish Bartol had spent more time on the worldbuilding. The idea of the Fates—the separate regions that rule this world/continent/area of the planet in which the people in the book live—is fascinating, and the whole firstborn v. secondborn system is interesting, too. But it gets confusing, quickly, when Roselle is conscripted into service, and an additional system, the military, comes into play. Add into that struggles with inclusion of original terms* and unique architectural elements that don’t quite make physical sense, and the ability to lose yourself in the plot flounders.

*There’s a glossary at the end of the book, but it’s too little too late. There’s something to be said for a heavy helping of context clues, particularly when creating a world that differs so greatly from our own.

Bonus Factor: Shades of Hunger Games

In the background of the main plot of Secondborn is something called the Secondborn Games, in which secondborns from all Fates compete in a winner-takes-all-and-everyone-else-dies competition to get elevated to firstborn status. It’s very reminiscent of the Hunger Games, and other parts of the book—the idea of the separate regions that all have specific specialties, for example—reminded me a lot of the Hunger Games series as well.

(Although this is a Bonus Factor, it actually works out in Secondborn’s disfavor, because The Hunger Games did it better.)

Factor: Series Starter

If you’re considering checking this book out, I’d be remiss not to tell you that it’s the first in a planned trilogy. So be prepared for very few things to get resolved and a semi-cliffhangery ending.

Casting Call:

Katherine Langford as Roselle

Relationship Status: Mixed Feelings

I didn’t hate our time together, Book, but I couldn’t help comparing you to other (better) dates who came before. I’ll probably give you another chance, but I can’t help feeling like we’re just spending time together until something better comes along.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from 47 North, but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Secondborn is available now.

Mandy Curtis's photo About the Author: Mandy is a small town girl living in a nerdy world, or—if you want to get literal—an editor/writer living in Austin, TX. In addition to yearning for YA books—the more dystopian or fantastical, the better—she can also be found swooning over superheroes, dreaming of The Doctor and grinning at GIFs.
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