Review: Allegiance by Cayla Kluver

Title:  Allegiance

Author:  Cayla Kluver

Publisher:  Harlequin Teen

Series:  Legacy Trilogy #2

Other Reviews for This Author:  Legacy

I'm always hesitant about sequels to books that I love - especially when both books average at around 500 pages.  It doesn't take much to worry about a series losing steam - or an entire novel losing steam - in 500 pages.  Legacy was a fabulous fantasy novel with alternative history elements involved, and I had high hopes that Allegiance would provide a great reading experience.  It also served as a huge denoument for the first book, as Legacy ended on a cliff hanger that had the romance reader in me shocked and a little hurt.  Allegiance picks up where Legacy left off, delivering a reading experience that is epic and deepens the world that Kluver began to show readers in her first book.

*Note - will contain major spoilers for Legacy*

Alera is Queen of Hytanica.  Ever since Narian fled from the country as a possible traitor, her romance with him was forced to end, making way for Alera to marry Steldor, the son of the leader of the military, Canaan.  Steldor had always been her accepted suitor, but Alera could never love a man with such a fierce temper.  As the eldest child, however, Alera's father had constantly berated her with the necessity of a marriage that he approved of for the Kingdom of Hytanica - one to a man that would always dominate her as a woman.  Alera wanted to stay true to Narian, but arguing further would have incited her father to marry Steldor off to Alera's sister, Marianna, and thus make her the new Queen.  Marianna would have gladly done it, but Alera knew that letting her sister go through with such a marriage would be destructive.

This complicated web of emotions is only the groundwork for the plight about to fall on Hytanica.  As Queen, Alera sees the effects of Hytantica's complicated history with its enemy country, Cockyri.  Cockyri is preparing for war against Hytanica, and they're planning on using one person as their key weapon - Narian.  Narian meets the requirements of a long-known prophecy in Hytanica history that spells the country's demise.  Cockyri's Overlord is slowly gathering his troops and preparing for the imminent attack on Hytanica, and the Hytanicans can only fight back so long before they succumb to the other nation's brutal power.

The political intrigue of Hytanica and its inevitable war deepens as Alera attempts to juggle her new duties and her marriage to Steldor.  She cannot force herself to love the man.  He continually turns to her in an attempt to foster romantic feelings, but Alera can't stop thinking about Narian.  The oncoming war with Cockyri only makes it worse.  Alera begins to truly see the results of the political upset as soldiers die and people like London - a long time friend and Alera's body guard - perform stealth work and gather information within the borders of the enemy land.  The stakes are high for Alera and her Kingdom, as each day brings the two nations closer to war, and closer to the possible fulfillment of the prophecy.

Readers cannot - cannot - find a heroine like Alera every day.  She has so many qualities that, at first glance, would make the reader feel her to be like one of the more mundane YA heroines.  She's forever calculating and determining what the people around her think about her actions and at times she makes rash decisions based on the events going on around her.  This sounds average and ho-hum, but Alera is so much more than that.  Allegiance, in particular, is a novel that really shows her strength of character.  She ended Legacy with the harrowing decision of marrying Steldor despite how she despised him in order to save her sister.  While she was in love with Narian.  A girl who could give up the love of her life like that to save her sister is one that is willing to sacrifice, but Alera isn't a woman who's weak.  She refuses to be used by Steldor, and Steldor in turn wants her to come to him willingly in order to consummate the marriage.  This allows Alera's character to really shine.  She doesn't let Steldor use her, and she takes on her role as Queen to great regard.  She stands up to her father in what was perhaps one of my favorite scenes in a YA novel this year - I was cheering her on endlessly the entire time - and shows him that she will not be repressed by his own inane desires.  What's awesome is that Kluver has placed this intelligent character in a setting that culturally represses women, and uses the narrative of the series to show her growth and how she changes the world around her.  Legacy is very much the traditional patriarchy, and Allegiance continues the trend.  Unlike Legacy, however, Allegiance shows Alera in a seat of great power, and she notices the repression of women more as her worldview is forced to expand.  There are touching scenes where Alera realizes that some of her wedded friends are not as well off as she is when it comes to having a respectful husband - and yes, Steldor is quite respectful despite his temper.  Alera's character growth just ends up becoming so rich and complex.  There's nothing better than a heroine that improves and uses her intelligence more and more with each book.

Can you imagine that the other characters are just as awesome?  Well, they are.  Steldor alone gets so much character growth in Allegiance.  One hates him in the first novel, as he is overly pompous, arrogant, and brutal in how he attempts to get Alera to fall for him over Narian.  His marriage to her leaves the reader feeling Alera's overall resentment.  By the end of Allegiance, Steldor's character goes through such a change and enlightenment period.  Alera soon learns that he has a level of respect about him.  She also learns of his past, and how his love for her can override his own wants at times.  Steldor becomes a character that you want to live on in the narrative despite his inability to be a love interest.  That's really something, and it's also something in that he respects Alera more and more as she shows her strength in the narrative.  The man giving the lady the respect she deserves as a strong woman?  Heck yeah.   Narian sadly doesn't appear much in this installment, but he is, as always, complex male character that manages to continually hold the reader's interest.  Other characters such as Miranna, Canaan, and London continue to show their depth as well.  Kluver really gets to know all of her characters.  All of the soldiers are individuals and bear different types of personalities and decisions.  There's Steldor's uncle, who is amusing and lights up Alera's life.  There's Alera's own father, who becomes more and more of a problematic figure in her world.  Everything becomes so tangled and complex, and what's grand is that I quickly began to remember who these characters were when I started reading the novel.  It had been a while since I'd read Legacy, but Kluver has a way of tapping into her characters and their personalities.  You never truly forget them after you read about them.

The world of the Legacy trilogy is really quite stunning.  There's something extremely rich and fascinating in the setting that Kluver creates.  Everything is based off of historical details, but is in and of itself an original land.  Kluver focuses more on the political/character aspect of the novel as opposed to the world building, but I would find myself constantly surprised at how detailed everything was.  Kluver's style naturally lends itself towards descriptive scenes that immerse the reader, but in Allegiance you can particularly feel the vibrancy of the settings.  The only downside is that the historical fantasy aspect can sometimes be forgotten about the series - for instance, the characters still practice Christianity, even though the entire make-up of the world and its history is different.  Those references a minor compared to the rest of the story, however, and don't detract from the overall enjoyment.  Allegiance also shows Kluver's expansion into more of the magic and prophecy-oriented portions of the world.  A few scenes actually show a bit of magic being used offensively, and Kluver hints that it's more of a Cockyrian thing rather than a Hytanican thing.  The contrast of the two countries grows in this installment as well, and creates a very thought-provoking read.  Cockyri is chiefly female-dominated, and Hytanica is male-dominated.  The clash of the two is explored in-depth in Allegiance, and the overall effect is one that really has the reader thinking: how different is Alera from the first book?  Was she really ever weak, or just confined by society?  What could she have achieved in Cockyri?  How does the Cockryian way change Narian, who was raised there?

The general style of Kluver's work remains gorgeous as well.  There's something about her writing that makes the length of this series seem less-than-intimidating.  The pages flew by.  I wanted to spend every waking moment reading this book, devouring it and watching the plot unfold at its slow pace.  Kluver knows how to build things up.  The smallest things are vital later on in the story, and she doesn't characterize without purpose.  Everything feels needy within the story, and that's huge for me as a reader.  She's one of the few wordy writers in young adult that uses those words with importance.  Her descriptions may seem excessive at times, but she paints an image that stays with the reader as the scene continues, and the scene always manages to convey a very strong mood, too.  Everything about her writing just works for me.  I have no issue with rereading this entire series someday, as it is that enjoyable.  The pacing of things may seem tedious at times, but Kluver keeps everything worthy of the reader's interest.  There's nothing too boring or too pointless in the text.  That kind of thoughtful writing makes a historical-ish fantasy like this worth reading.  The ending is a whopper, too.  Kluver doesn't hold back and makes many of her characters hurt and suffer in a lot of ways.  Granted, it could have been worse, but the overall effect is one of a very emotional story.  At one point I even cried because one character almost....well, I can't say without spoiling it...but it was quite an emotional scene.  Kluver does it really well, and her ending has me endlessly curious as to how the final novel will end things - Allegiance ends things pretty well, but there's enough underneath the surface politically that would allow for a third book in the series.

If you haven't read Kluver's series yet, you need to.  There's something so rich and decadent about her writing.  The characters in Allegiance have grown so much since their appearance in the first book, and continued to grow throughout Allegiance.  The plot got stronger and managed to toss out new ideas and twists that made things exciting, and Kluver really made the climax exciting and worthy of the build-up.  There's just so much here to love, and I can't believe that there's only one book left before I have to say goodbye to Alera, Steldor, Narian, and the rest of them.  This series has quickly become a favorite of mine, and Allegiance does not disappoint.

Cover:  I like this one well enough, but I don't like it as much as I do Legacy.  The guy doesn't match my image of any of the males in the book.  I do love the girl's dress.

Rating:  5.0  Stars

Copy:  Received from publisher/publicist for review  (Thank you, Natashya and Harlequin Teen!)

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