When everything that defines you is stripped away, who do you become?
War has invaded Atalanta’s quiet villages and lush woodlands, igniting whispered worries in its glittering capitol. Far from the front lines, 18-year-old Aris Haan, a talented wingjet flyer, has little cause for concern. Until her beloved Calix is thrust into the fray, and a stranger makes her an impossible offer: the chance to join a secret army of women embedded within the all-male military.
Aris’s choice to follow Calix to war will do more than put her in physical danger; it will make her question everything she believes about herself. When she and her enigmatic commander uncover a deadly conspiracy, her expert flying may be the only hope for her dominion’s survival…and her own.
It’s Mulan meets Battlestar Galactica, with a heroine who is strong enough to save a nation…but only if she’s willing to sacrifice everything, even the one promise she swore she’d never break.
Firstly - this is not, strictly speaking, a romance book. The relationship with her boyfriend is the heroine, Aris', catalyst for deciding to join up with the covert group, but it stops defining her as a character about a third of the way in. She understands, in a way that the reader understands early on, that even though she joined for the wrong reasons its where she belonged.
I'll admit that Aris (renamed Aristo when disguised as a man) became irritating for a while. Until she really got into the thick of what it meant to be part of Search and Rescue, she didn't seem to understand the stakes. She lived in a particularly rosey-colored world that didn't mesh together very well even as she dreamed of it. She thought she'd fly, she'd find Calix and it would all be happily ever after.
Except that's not reality. During a particularly brutal mission she comes face to face with what it means to be be a soldier in the war and she unconsciously re-arranges her priorities because of it. Instead of "will this mission end in me finding Calix?" it became "how fast can I fly to save as many people as possible?". Instead of "Once I find Calix it will all make sense again" it became "What can I do to help win this war?"
Her comrades--Dysis, another female undercover who will do anything to find her brother Jax, Galec who can't wait to see how his youngest daughter has grown up, Orvine who brags and boasts--they felt real. The rare moments when Dysis let's her girlie side out, how Galec worries over Aris in a fatherly way, how Orvine doesn't let anything get him down and is ready with a challenge. They had their good points and bad points, quirks and mannerisms.
Calix...in a way Calix and Aris at the beginning felt like a dream almost. They had everything planned out--their jobs, how long to be "promised", their futures--and didn't seem to grasp what the continuing War meant. They were both naive, partially because they were hopeful and partially because their government kept them that way. Even Calix's letters to Aris scream of a guy who did not want to live in the present. He spoke more of the past then he did of the future.
I won't spoil anything about their reunion. Anyone who reads halfway through the book will understand how that will go down (in a way that Aris just doesn't see). I will say that Banghart doesn't create a situation out of left field. Calix's reactions, Aris' reactions, their joint reactions all make sense.
And lest you think there's little else to this book, I appreciated that Banghart gave us several different viewpoints. Aris is the main one, but the opening scene is from a character you wouldn't expect and from there we have viewpoints from two other characters who show us the political side of the War. As dirty as the war was and as awful as it was, the politics were worst at times.
Insofar as the romance goes...I do admit that while I could see it coming, I don't think Banghart did enough to validate how fast it progressed at one point. She backtracks a bit, but not very much so I hope to see more development in the next book.