Book one of the Dark Caravan cycle
By Heather Demetrios
Available now from Balzer+Bray (HarperCollins)
I was intrigued by EXQUISITE CAPTIVE: a princess in exile, sold a slave and joining the rebellion. I found the execution quite uneven, however. It takes quite awhile for the story to get really rolling, for instance.
I think the slow pace in the beginning came from my disconnect from Nalia. She's spent three years in slavery, the exact fate the lower caste djinni rebelled against Nalia's caste to escape. She says it has changed her point of view, yet she still treats the lower castes as beneath her. And I just never saw a difference between her voice and the generic YA heroine voice. She likes tooling around in her Maserati and pondering her attractions. She does flash back to the horrors of the genocide, but the tone was just so light when her master Malek wasn't in the scene. Sometimes even then. It felt easy at times to forget that Nalia is enslaved and has been for years, which is somewhat horrifying.
Then there's the issue of Nalia seducing Malek to gain her freedom and join Raif, the leader of the rebellion. I am fine with Nalia taking advantage of the man who owns her and wants to rape her. But at times she worries about feeling something genuine for him and I just can't. I know Stockholm Syndrome is a thing and he's sometimes nice to her (to try to get her to sleep with him, because he's just nice enough he won't do it by force), but it's not what I want to read nor what I expected to read. I am so tired of YA love triangles, and I definitely don't need a book about a girl who is torn between a boy who wants to help free her (to get what he wants) and the man who owns her.
What does work in EXQUISITE CAPTIVE is the growing danger to Nalia from the Ifrit, the caste that took over. They've found out she's alive and sent out a crazed assassin. He is genuinely scary (albeit reminiscent of Buffalo Bill), and his search leads to a thrilling showdown. The growing prominence of that storyline is part of why the end of the book works so well. There's also the set up of two rivals chasing after a McGuffin for book two.
Personally, I don't think I'll be back for book two. EXQUISITE CAPTIVE finally caught my attention at the end, but the slog to that point was a bit much.