Firstborns rule society. Secondborns are the property of the government. Thirdborns are not tolerated. Long live the Fates Republic.
On Transition Day, the second child in every family is taken by the government and forced into servitude. Roselle St. Sismode’s eighteenth birthday arrives with harsh realizations: she’s to become a soldier for the Fate of Swords military arm of the Republic during the bloodiest rebellion in history, and her elite firstborn mother is happy to see her go.
Televised since her early childhood, Roselle’s privileged upbringing has earned her the resentment of her secondborn peers. Now her decision to spare an enemy on the battlefield marks her as a traitor to the state.
But Roselle finds an ally—and more—in fellow secondborn conscript Hawthorne Trugrave. As the consequences of her actions ripple throughout the Fates Republic, can Roselle create a destiny of her own? Or will her Fate override everything she fights for—even love?
Amy Bartol’s Secondborn is a fun and easy YA dystopian read, which is also a first in series. It contains all the major tropes of the genre, though sometimes to its detriment. We are introduced to a district/faction oriented society—the Fates Republic. There are nine Fates and they are given a hierarchy. It is suggested that each Fate has a specialty, though in this book we are only told a few of them. Firstborns rule the society. Secondborns are meant to serve the ruling class. And thirdborns are forbidden. This is the concept, which I found intriguing.
The protagonist is an eighteen-year-old girl named Roselle St. Sismode and she is the daughter of the Clarity (leader) of the Fate of Swords (the second from the top in the Fates hierarchy). Her mother is questionably the second most powerful person in the Republic. Roselle is a celebrity, having grown up in front of the cameras her entire life. She’s grown up with her family, but for the hook of the story, she is being shipped off to be “transitioned” to her new role as a secondborn servant. And she is transitioning to a tropos (private/lowest rank) in the Fates military force. To make matters worse, the Republic is being ravaged by civil war. It’s a good setup that gets the story moving fast.
I enjoyed the worldbuilding, with the unique buildings, transportation, and weaponry. I also appreciated the glossary in the back to keep all the new terms straight (though a few terms like “hovercar” were rather comical). I wish there was more history woven into the worldbuilding—specifically what led to the creation of this firstborn / secondborn caste system. I know it’s a fine line to balance worldbuilding and pacing, but even though the caste system is interesting, it’s hard to blindly accept. Was there previously a population problem? Resource availability problem? None of this is addressed. And neither is the fact that the population would now be continually declining (if half the population can have a maximum of two children, the best-case scenario is the population breaking even, which would not happen in a real-world scenario, and definitely not during a time of conflict and war).
I thought Roselle was a strong heroine, kicking butt in quite a few scenes (including her defensive attack on Agent Crow, which was awesome), but she also showed a sympathetic, softer side. Her supporting cast of friends were also nicely fleshed out, as well as her friend/boss/possible-future-love-interest Clifton and the murderous and sadistic Census Agent Crow. I didn’t see much development in Roselle’s mother and older brother. I liked the detail that parents often fear their secondborns because they may try to murder the firstborns to gain their status. But with that being the case, I don’t see why Roselle was trained for combat from a very young age (which was televised) if she was seen by her mother as such a threat. Also, with her lifelong expert combat training, she was never shown how to put on armor? That seems a little strange, though it isn’t a detail that distracted me from the story.
I like Hawthorne (Roselle’s semi-superior officer / love interest), though I didn’t necessarily like the two of them together. The romance subplot was one part insta-love, one part awkward, and one part sweet. It wasn’t terrible, but I didn’t see the real build-up of chemistry and sexual tension. With the amount going on with the action, coming-of-age, and new-face-of-the-Republic plots, the romance subplot could have been taken out entirely without significantly changing the story. But I know, YA needs a romance subplot… just one of those required tropes.
For the most part, the story flowed really well for me. I finished it in three days, continually wanting to know what would happen next. There were slower parts, but they didn’t feel like lulls in the story. The only things I took exception to with regards to the pacing and story structure were the one-year jump in time and the so-called cliffhanger / non-ending. I’m fine with a story jumping in time when it seems natural to the story, but this just didn’t. For the most part, the story timing was relatively tight—and then suddenly about two-thirds into the story we’re jolted with “one year later.” There is always a lot going on, so it seems strange that we lose such a huge amount of time with no significant events. Then there’s the ending, which aggravated me. I am all for cliffhangers to drive interest for the next story. But I believe the primary present storyline should be resolved within the book—then bam—you can hit the reader with a cliffhanger. But this book didn’t seem to do that at all. There wasn’t a rise to a climax and resolution, but more of a string of events that simply stops. The ending makes this book feel like a partial story.
Even with those gripes, Secondborn is an entertaining and enjoyable read. I’m eager to continue Roselle’s journey and interested what the author has in store for us. We can already see on Amazon that there will be at least three books (the second two already up for pre-order). I don’t know if it’s a planned trilogy or will be a continuing series. It may all depend on the success of the first three books. I don’t believe Secondborn will become a new classic like The Hunger Games or Divergent, but it is a worthy addition to the YA dystopian genre.
Have you read Secondborn yet? What are your thoughts?