Alex(a) and her twin, Marcel, along with their village, are the victims of genocide by an evil sorcerer. Girls are forced into breeding houses and boys are recruited into the army. Alexa dresses in drag so she won't be raped for life and ends up becoming one of the most powerful soldiers in the king's army. As a result, she, along with her brother, become Prince Damian's bodyguards. At first, I really liked Damian because he had Cardan vibes from THE CRUEL PRINCE, and also because enemies to lovers is one of my favorite tropes and it's saved from being too squick because Damian's father is the one who is responsible for all the bad stuff, not Damian, and it's clear that he doesn't necessarily approve of everything his father does.
The first half of the book was really good, although I do feel like there is some LGBT+ erasure in the sense that Alexa keeps saying that boys wouldn't be thinking about other boys, or she wouldn't be having her traitorous thoughts if she were a boy. Um, what about gay boys? Also, BOTH love interests apparently knew she was a girl the whole time, which is a peeve of mine. The only gender-bending book I've read so far that really gets around this in a believable way was AN ASSASSIN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND TREASON, where the hero was bisexual and really did believe the heroine was a boy, and he feels understandably conflicted and betrayed when he finds out that this isn't really the case.
The second half of the book became more tedious because it turned into a non-stop love triangle and there was way less fighting and butt-kicking. It started to feel like set-up for the next book, and it was very uninteresting to me. I got bored and skimmed a lot of these sections. I am also a little unclear about the world-building and whether the characters were people of color, because Alexa describes her skin as olive (she's "Blevonese") and the prince, who is part-Blevonese, is described as "exotic" at one point, and the Blevonese language seems to be modeled off Chinese, replete with tonal marks.
Overall, this wasn't really a bad book and I enjoyed a lot of it (especially the kick-butt parts, and the fact that the author actually dared to give the heroine facial scarring), and I think I would probably read further into the series to find out what happens next, but it was also not without flaw. I probably would have enjoyed this more when I was younger because of all the gratuitous fan service to the female gaze.
3 out of 5 stars