I can just imagine the conversation that must have taken place with this book…“So, I’ve got this manuscript about a girl who lives in this fantasy setting—”“Fantasies aren’t big right now. Can you make it dystopian?”“Um, I guess we could just say that the world got destroyed and this is what’s leftover?”“Great, let’s go with that. That fact that it makes no sense will be beside the point. Tell me about the main character.”“Her name is Rachel, and her dad is missing so she has to go find him using the skills he taught her—““So she’s a Strong Female Character? Those are very big right now.”“Well, she uses weapons, but technically—““Good, make sure you stress that she’s a Strong Female Character. Those are very big right now.”“How…do I stress that?”“Just have people talk about her strongness a lot. That’s all you really need.”“Whatever. But Rachel, see, she has to go find her dad, and she gets this boy she has a crush on to help—““No, they should be in love.”“What?”“No one writes crushes anymore. They should be soul-shatteringly in love.”“…”“And there needs to be a love triangle.”“There isn’t.”“Can you set up for one in the next book?”“Will you buy my book if I do?”“Yes.”“*sigh* Okay.” There’s so much in this book that’s just so…weird. The setting makes no sense. Just straight-up, don’t bother trying to reason it out, it makes no sense. But it goes beyond that into…almost fetishizing misogyny. I don’t know how else to explain it, but it’s something I’ve seen more and more lately. The culture of Baalboden is extremely misogynistic, to an absolutely ridiculous degree, and it feels like the only purpose is to delight in heaping all that misogyny-flavored angst on Rachel. It’s there to show off how awesome Rachel is for bucking it, and also to present contrived hardships. But it goes beyond that. I’m making a wild speculation and I want to right now separate the book from the author because writing is a fickle beast and authors can end up saying stuff they don’t mean by accident HOWEVER: It really does feel like this book has a powerful “Big Male Protector” kink. Even though it (sorta) says that the treatment of women as property in this culture is wrong, it delights in using those same roles on Rachel and Logan and it stresses Logan’s role as being responsible for her and tasked with protecting her from the big bag world. And Logan’s actions and comments are never criticized. He’s supposed to be the good guy. The overall tone I got from the book is “people keep saying this is wrong so I guess I should too, but I kind of get off on this.”And that made me very uncomfortable.Rachel is also a textbook case of how not to write a Strong Female Character. At first, she was just a character, and I sort of liked her. She was brash and unruly, a bit juvenile, but that was acceptable given her age. I got the impression from her that she was very sheltered, since she was laboring under the impression that she could just shout things and get her way. Very teenager. I thought her character growth would be her developing beyond this tantrum-throwing, but nope, apparently we’re supposed to admire her “spirit.” Though I didn’t mind Rachel in principle, the more people went on about how strong and awesome she was, the more I hated it. She’s not strong. The fact that she can use weapons is not strong. She was thoughtless and prone to throwing fits, she was always either running off to do things without thinking or trailing behind her menfolk, she didn’t make any serious plots or plans or contribute to anyone else doing the same, and every now and then she’d just sort of fall over and cry for a while. Any time she did do anything on her own, it was always a disaster that got her scolded afterwards. There’s a level at which I don’t mind this, but that level is “potential to grow up and be strong,” not “hey, she can stab stuff, let’s talk for six pages about how strong and awesome she is.” The bad guy was also a big gripe for me. He was too over-the-top and quite stupid, especially given the set up. Supposedly, he’s allowed to repress women right into non-person-hood and murder and torment people at the drop of a hat and do all these horrible things because he has the power to keep the Cursed One out of their city. Erm, no. All this supposedly takes places 50 years after modern day, and there’s no way our current culture would put up with this. We would find out how the Commander does his ‘keep away’ trick and then either force him to do it or copy it. In fact, it turns out his trick is just a necklace that repels the monster. Why not just take that from him and then stab the guy in the face?Also, all this takes place after modern day, but supposedly no one could defeat the Cursed One because its scales are “impervious to arrows and swords.” Um…hello atom bomb? They even manage to injure the thing with some mild explosives in this book, but no one thought “hey, let’s nuke the fuck out of that monster”?Like I said, this is a fantasy setting that clearly got shoehorned in to dystopia just for the sake of calling it dystopia.It’s a shame, because the core plot of this book wasn’t bad. It was quite engaging, actually. The book had the potential to be amazing, but it got held up with poor characters and creepy kink and abysmal logic gaps. And the attempts at science downright hurt me. If only they’d been kept as straight-up magic; this book is begging to be a fantasy.