Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Released: 26th January 2017 (Kindle: December 1st 2016)
My Rating: 2 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads
NOT ALL ARE FREE.
NOT ALL ARE EQUAL.
NOT ALL WILL BE SAVED.
Our world belongs to the Equals—aristocrats with magical gifts—and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England's grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.
A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.
Abi is a servant to England's most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family's secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?
A boy dreams of revolution.
Abi's brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.
And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.
He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?
This book has received so much praise and is really highly rated on Goodreads, and I do not understand why. Maybe I’m missing something, but for me, a lot of stuff either didn’t make sense, or was completely unbelievable. So this may be an unpopular opinion, but I didn’t enjoy this book.
First off, let’s talk about the characters. I am a person who rarely enjoys narratives split between so many people (especially when POVs are split so unequally), so I may be unfairly biased on this point, but I feel like we got way too many chapters from Luke’s POV and hardly any chapters from our other supposed main character, Abi. I think this is why I didn't connect to her and found her just a bit dull – we never actually got to know her. Her brother, Luke was a more fleshed out character. At least I got a sense of who he was (and his reactions were the only one I believed, I swear he was the only person with a modicum of sense in this entire book). There was real potential with Abi, but in the end, I really struggled to care about what happened to her. She did start to get better towards the end, but until then, she lacked any drive to do anything. All she could think about was a doomed romance with Jenner Jardine, an Equal boy with less personality than a dishcloth, instead of focusing on getting her brother back (which she promised she would do). It was her ten-year-old sister who fixed the problem, and even then, Abi was too preoccupied with Jenner to even see how much her brother had changed, or why that may be. And to top it all off, she got a chance to learn something that could really help her, to ask questions about a history shrouded in secrets (I mean, wasn’t the whole point of her doing her slavedays before going to medical school because she wanted to find out about the Equals’ powers?), but instead of taking advantage of that opportunity, she spent the whole time obsessing over dishcloth boy. It was all too insta-lovey for me.
Jenner had very little personality so I don't really know what to say about him. Gavar, his brother, was an awful person, but he was more interesting to read about. He hated his father, but was powerless to do anything about it. He just had to do what he was told, and I liked seeing this because it added another dimension to his character. However, it didn't really go anywhere, and he was generally still a pretty terrible person (though who knows what will happen in the next book). He treated women like crap, he only cared about his daughter and viewed most other people as just dirt on his shoe. And did no-one else think it was insane that his baby was left in the care of a ten-year-old?! I did really like Renie, one of the people Luke met while he was at Millmoor, but I just couldn’t get into the whole storyline she was involved in. Silyen, the youngest of the Jardine brothers, was probably the most interesting character, but unfortunately we barely ever actually got to see him, and so little was explained that I never had any idea what he was doing.
Plot-wise, I really struggled to believe the world the characters lived in. First, I didn’t get why everyone didn’t just do their slavedays when they were really old and had already lived their lives. Was there some kind of punishment for their families for not finishing them? It wasn’t explained. Second, I was confused as to how slavedays were viewed globally? Other societies in the world were not even communicating with Britain because of them, so surely this meant countries with slavedays and countries without them were hostile towards each other? Were they at war/in conflict? How did trade work between them? How did such differences develop in the first place (I really, really wanted more backstory)? As some countries had no slavedays, were there any known rebel groups acting against the system in the countries that did? It didn’t seem like it, but then after abolition was proposed, people started taking action? There was no information on any of this, and in my opinion, the world-building was all a bit convoluted. Obviously as readers, we understood how horrific this society was, but the history of how it came to be was sort of brushed over in the book and I was left wondering how things were in the terrible state they were in (there was some brief explanation of a war and some historical figures that came up with these rules, but it wasn't enough). Another thing was that the Equals’ powers (or Skills) were not explored at all – after reading the book, I still don’t understand how they work. I suppose the next book could explain all of this in more detail, but I felt I was missing out by not understanding in this book. There were some parts I did enjoy (the story with the Dog Man, Luke trying to rally support for abolition). The ending was also surprising, and I have to admit, I was interested to find out what would happen to those characters involved. However, because the rest of the book was so difficult to get through, I can’t really see myself reading the sequel.
Overall, I didn’t like this book. I’d recommend borrowing it from the library first, or a friend, if you want to read it. Perhaps you will enjoy it more than I did - most other people have!