Thank you NetGalley and BooksGoSocial for the opportunity to read this book. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Synopsis: Driven, talented, and determined to live up to her family's fame, Sasha Nikolayeva is ballet’s crown princess. But just when Sasha lands her most prestigious role yet, she falls prey to a host of disturbing neurological symptoms that threaten to end her career and her very life. As her mind and body deteriorate, Sasha spirals into a nightmare world where beauty and cruelty exist in the same breath and villains rule from the shadows.
In the glittering, sharp-edged City of Roses, Sasha is no princess. She’s a thrall, a slave. Thousands like her suffer in cursed silence while citizens enjoy the splendor of the City, blissfully unaware that their servants are anything more than living dolls enchanted to do their bidding. But the City's slavers know the truth, and they are always watching. One misstep could cost Sasha her life—or her soul.
Even as she endures the violence and indignity of captivity, Sasha can't help being drawn to the beauty of her nightmare world and the underground rebels who offer her friendship, shelter, even love. Before Sasha can break her chains for good, she'll need to choose between the life waiting for her at home and the countless lives she could save if she stays. To choose a nightmare over her real life, her future, would be madness...but maybe a little madness is just what it takes to change the fate of a city built on lies. (Amazon)
The synopsis for this novel is fantastic. As soon as I read it, I wanted to read the whole book. Here I thought I was going to read a dark and gritty story, perhaps sometimes uncomfortable and difficult to get through due to its content warning, but full of depth and deeply imaginative.
I know that pushing boundaries can be risky, especially in art forms. And writing certainly falls into that category. Backlash can happen, but sometimes risks are worth taking. A few quick glimpses of the lead in captivity before she is sold into slavery does not sell the premise of this story. I don't see how she gets there, I don't see her journey, and therefore I can't connect. If she is to struggle—as one would, in these circumstances—then I want to see that so that my emotions can be engaged. The most violent instance that I read in this book, human to human, was a whipping scene. Past that, things are lightly touched upon to give the idea of the risk and danger of this world into which the lead Sasha has been thrown into, but the reader never really delves into things.
Sasha is not a likable character. Considering the fact that she is the protagonist, and the one through whose eyes we view this story, that's a hard pill to swallow. If she's not throwing a tantrum, she's running away from a situation because she doesn't like what's happening or what she's told. I get it, this is a young woman who thinks she's suffering from a mental illness, she's scared, her life is in danger, she's confused. But she has these abrupt and rash reactions to moments that she's in, that she comes across as annoying and childish. Ironically, she acknowledges this in-story more than once. And then something else happens that she doesn't agree with, and she behaves the same way.
Abrupt. That's a great adjective to describe a lot of things in this novel. I see it too often, where two or more characters come together to have a discussion, they sit down, things seem about to expand... And then the “conversation” ends in less than ten lines. Everyone gets up, walks away, and it's over. This happens not only in times of dialogue, but in scene changes, in information familiarly mentioned in-story as if the reader is already supposed to know about it. Take your time, expand, give me something to hang onto so that I remember some of these moments, many meant to be full of emotion.
That emotion is missing from so much. The characters are, for the most part and with the exception of Sasha, one-dimensional. A lot of them are props to help the story move along, to make certain points happen, but they don't really contribute much else. They are easily forgettable. The bonds between them felt weak. Save for her friendship with Sadra, Sasha doesn't really connect, and a big part of that is the fact that the scenes between characters are hurried along. After a blatantly obvious moment of instant attraction towards Luca (main romantic interest), we don't so much see their growing romance as much as we are told that it's going to happen. She keeps insisting in her head that it can't for several chapters, meanwhile he makes moony eyes at her for just as long—which involves a lot of smirking and some blushing—and then we get smacked in the face with the hard fact that they slept together at the beginning of a new chapter. Well, that was an abrupt surprise.
The writing is very easy to follow, I gladly give it that. With every sit-down moment that I had to read, I raced through it. If nothing else, this is one of those books that you might not really enjoy in composition, but you still want to find out how it comes to a close. The very last scene in the book was sweet, and it was, at the very least, rewarding to see this novel end on a good note. But there were a lot of setbacks; I wasn't fully sold on the magic system—which was not expansive—overall the book was very weakly executed for me; and the two instances of animal abuse/cruelty that appear (though minor in comparison to the rest of what happens) were poorly forewarned, ultimately unnecessary to the story, and soured some of the experience.
The Chalice and the Crown has a great concept, gave me a lot of Alice in Wonderland and Swan Lake vibes, but it left me wanting a lot more than what it delivered.