Though angst-filled, troublesome and seemingly doomed, the love story between Kestrel, the Valorian General’s daughter, and Arin, the Herrani slave Kestrel buys within the first pages of the series, is impossible not to support. At times their story is difficult to read, especially during the second book, but in the end all you want is for these two tortured souls to find happiness with each other.
The author depicts realistic battles and shocks with life-shattering secrets. Rutkoski gives the story the right level of risk, and isn’t afraid to kill important characters effectively. She also writes a brainwashing/memory loss plotline well, in an emotional and gripping way. (It is difficult to find any book, movie, etc. that can make a memory less plotline anything more than an exhausting obstacle introduced in a situation that would otherwise have no conflict.)
For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, reviewed here. For a read-alike with a similar Earth-like setting and political backdrop, read Grave Mercy by Robin Lafevers, reviewed here, and the rest of the His Fair Assassin series.