First in a series
By J.D. Vaughn
Available now from Disney-Hyperion
In Tequende, all second-born children join the guard when they turn fifteen. Some will end up serving out their term as servants if they aren't suited, but Talimendra has always dreamed of becoming a guard, unlike her twin sister. The training school, however, isn't quite what she expects. She especially finds herself putting her foot in it when it comes to relating to kids from the other guilds. (Tali is of the Sun Guild, the merchant guild.) She still manages to make friends with Zarif (Moon Guild) and Chey (Earth Guild).
J.D. Vaughn is actually two authors: Julia Durango and Tracie Zimmer. They've created a strong start to a series in THE SECOND GUARD. Each guild has its own culture, and the clashes between them end up showing Tali how alike all the people are more than how different. She struggles both to overcome her prejudices and to figure out why the people are kept so segregated. At the beginning of the novel, Tali is very trusting that her world is just as it appears to be. But as her world grows bigger, so do her suspicsions. Tali, Zarif, Chey, and a fourth, servant friend soon realize that an official in the academy is disloyal to the crown, and start spying to figure out who.
THE SECOND GUARD is on the younger side of YA; aside from the length, there's not much separating it from a middle grade novel. I expect many readers of all ages will be excited by a fantasy that's light on the romance. (Although Tali does muse about how beauteous one of her instructors is.) Other readers will be excited that the worldbuilding is influenced by South American history instead of European.
The focus on the mutiny provides THE SECOND GUARD with a strong plot while seeding the ground for future entries in the series. Tali might stay loyal, but she's beginning to see that much of how the country is ruled needs to change. The queen's heir might bring that change, but is it enough to rely on her? Where should change start? Vaughn makes it clear that they've only started to explore the world of Tequende and the hostile countries that surround it.
If you're looking for an adventure full of culture clashes, surreptitious communication and travel, and a battle for the control of a country, then pick up THE SECOND GUARD. Even though it is the start to a series, it stands fine on its own.