Unblemished, by Sara Ella
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
In reading this novel I was struck by its similarities with another novel I had read recently from the same publisher . Apparently independently, two authors both decided to make fantasies off of fantasies involving parallel universes where the lead character was a hidden princess who thought herself ugly and unpopular and who had a family background among the higher ranks of a fictional society and whose rise was accompanied by a great deal of violence. I must admit a great deal of fondness for hidden prince stories  but I find this a somewhat worrisome trend for literature aimed at young women, I must admit. Is it so difficult for women to imagine themselves as princesses worthy of respect and honor that they either have to project those longings to the past or onto an imaginary world where such misfits are royalty being pursued by multiple attractive guys? I had thought that the inevitable love triangle of this novel was handled well until the author, in a section of questions after the very lengthy main novel was done, asked the reader if they were on Team Ky or Team Joshua, at which point I thought far less of the author and her desire to exploit and capitalize on popular trends in young women’s literature. Let us make no mistake, this book is young women’s literature, although the longings to belong somewhere are not limited to young women alone, and demonstrate that something is deeply troubled in our world in that so much literature is devoted to feeding the hope that we were made for another place and so little of it points us to God–admittedly this novel does a better job than most with its clearly godly “Verity.”
In looking at the content of this particular novel, there is a lot of action but a lot of it is very creepy. The author takes to heart the injunction that politics is personal by making a realm where politics is very small, almost claustrophobic. A genealogy so complicated and interconnected that it almost requires a family tree to unravel combines with a lot of text dumps about a system of talents that is spread through various birthmarks, where the main character El has one so unique that it makes her consider herself to be particularly ugly, and where all of the people close to her end up being connected in some deeply complicated struggle over the fight between light and darkness in a world distinctly like New York and New England but slightly different. Although I am not necessarily a big fan of New York fiction, and I found that this novel ran too long and featured a lot of confusing conversations punctuated by a particularly dumb heroine whose point of view chapters were narrated by what looked like free indirect dialogue featuring a lot of mind reading between the character and her mother. The plot of the story, with its many complications, boils down to a prophetic belief that all depends on the fate of a particular young woman and what happens when she reaches eighteen years of age in a realm where a wicked and corrupt ruler is in charge in a realm with an absent and perhaps deceased king. If you like confusing plots that feature a lot of individual conflicts and lengthy set piece speeches that take long stretches of time and pages, this is a good book for you to enjoy.
In terms of how to appreciate this novel, I have to say that there were a lot of elements I enjoyed about it. The fantasy elements of the story are pretty enjoyable, and the author attempts to ground her work within a larger framework of works that includes, for example, the work of Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien. The novel also shows its debt to more contemporary fantasy with its use of dumb but somehow prophetically important female protagonists, chaste but overwrought love triangles in the manner of Twilight, handsome hunks who are both bad guys and good guys at the same time, and girls who struggle with frenemies. If you are fond of these contemporary cliches, it will greatly aid your enjoyment of the book. Somehow this book appears to be the inevitable first volume of a series and also, possibly, a pitch for yet another film aimed at female teen and young adult audiences. I have mixed feelings about this–this was a decent enough novel to read, but I cannot say I have any great enthusiasm to read anything else by this author or anything else in the series, given its disappointing sequel-bait epilogue and its obvious desire to appeal to the Twihard audience.
 See, for example: