You should read this book. I've read so many lately that I don't really say that so vehemently anymore. I have stopped giving out 5 stars so generously. But the writing here is just incredible.
I rarely have such an emotional reaction to a story. A bit of fun, a bit of interest, usually a "sigh!" moment. But not generally the kind of flood of tears I had when Avra died! They killed Avra! How could they do that? I'm still pretty undone! I kept thinking Jonathan would raise her from the dead..
So barring the tissue box for now, let me address some key areas, starting with the cover. How could any dystopian lover pass this one up? It looks like the "feel" of the book. It does justice to the story.
As for the plot, well, it was excellent as well. The idea that humanity has descended into an emotionless state, except for fear, is a good place to start and a great backdrop. The reason for this state of the world becomes quickly apparent and well thought-out, which speaks to the world-building. Our main character drinks some ancient blood that gives him a full range of emotions, and a royal bad guy drinks some synthesized version which gives him only bad emotions. The contrast between the two against the backdrop is stark as it plays out. There is adventure on a broad span, over time and distance. There is some graphic violence inappropriate for children under, I would say (as a mom) roughly 14 years old. And it is not neatly tied up in the end. While not a cliffhanger, it is a setup for the sequel. I was not screaming at the end, desperate to find out what happens next. But I am very, very interested.
I thoroughly enjoyed the characters. The main character Rom has quite a journey and changes dramatically as the story progresses. Saric is a bad, bad, bad guy, although not stereotypical. He's just crazy; maniacal and scheming. He really doesn't come to a gory, spectacular end, but rather goes out with a whimper. I think he make a reappearance in the sequel. He's reminiscent of King Herod in the Bible, but again, different and in a completely different context than in the Bible. I fell in love with Avra, I loved Triphon, and Neah annoyed me. And while Rom was the most interesting character for me, Feyn came in a close second. The Keeper was looney crazy along the lines of Saric - just in a good way rather than evil. These were not really stock characters for me. They didn't just serve a purpose for the plot; they were people I really liked and although essential to the story, were not at all cliche.
The pacing seemed slow to me at first. Actually, it's not; the action picks right up from the get-go and doesn't stop. It is not easy to get bored with this story. The seeming slow-start for me had more to do with the fact that I was listening to the audio while trying to fit and cut laminate flooring around a particularly difficult doorway. My brain had a little trouble with the division of attention, and that made the book seem slow. But trust me, it is anything but slow.
The romance is wonderful. It is an integral part of the story in the way Dekker used it in the Circle series. I've read several books lately where the romance is sweet and full of infatuation. This romance, however, is deep and rich. It's like the difference between a rich cream sauce and a piece of candy. It happens quickly, but it is based on a solid foundation that didn't come out of nowhere. And it is coloured by other flavours of love in the book, making it satisfying for those craving romance in a story.
This book does have overt Christian themes. If you think you won't like this story because it's a "Christian" book, then you should think again and just enjoy what it offers. Dekker is a master at filling a story with stuff from the Bible that won't beat you over the head or knock you down.
I often think I'm bowled over by a story and upon reflection, find that I didn't like it as much as I originally thought. No so in this case. This book is amazing. I cannot wait for the sequel. Do yourself a favor and read this book. You will not be disappointed.