For those who have read “The Selection” series by Kiera Cass, you know that it’s kind of like the executive producers at ABC got their hands on “Cinderella” and exploited it into a cash cow in the way of “The Bachelor” and then proceeded to capitalize on the success of “The Hunger Games” by throwing in a dystopian society and general revolution. For those who haven’t, well, that’s a pretty good, bare-bones description of the first 3 books of the series.
That kind of makes it sound like I don’t love the series. I actually really do. The first three books of the series were great “fluff” reads. They are full of romance, teen angst, incredible opulence, family devotion, and just enough social upheaval to keep from being too mind-numbing. If we’re being honest, it’s probably one of my favorite series I’ve read. Not even guilty pleasure – just generally, wholeheartedly enjoyable. Which is why I pre-ordered the newest addition to the series the day it became available on Amazon. Actually, to be more accurate, I had a full-blown fangirl moment on the day Kiera Cass announced that Harper Teen had green-lit two additional books to the series we had all come to terms with as being a trilogy. I then proceeded to stalk her blog for updates on the new installment. Like I said, I’m a fan.
The book hit my Kindle on May 5, 2015 and I dove right in as soon as I got home from work that day. Oh, I should pause here with a warning: the plot of “The Heir” is, in-and-of-itself, a spoiler for the conclusion of the original Selection Trilogy. If you don’t want to know what happens at the end of those books (even though it was pretty predictable anyway), please stop reading now. Thanks.
The narrative begins with Eadlyn Schreave explaining to us how she came to be heir to the throne of Illéa – by beating her twin brother, Ahren, out of the womb by 7 tiny minutes. SEVEN minutes that changed the fate of not only Eadlyn & Ahren, but the whole country of Illéa when the King and Queen decide to change the law to allow her to inherit the throne. To quote Eadlyn herself, “Alas, Mom and Dad couldn’t stand to watch their firstborn be stripped of a title by an unfortunate but rather lovely set of breasts. So they changed the law, and the people rejoiced, and I was trained day by day to become the next ruler of Illéa.”
That excerpt is actually a great example of Eadlyn’s voice. Her perspective is incredibly refreshing after three books from the POV of America Singer. Don’t get me wrong – I love America, but Eady is much more self-assured and doesn’t tend to come off as quite so…whiny? That’ll happen when you’re raised in a palace and destined to become the next ruler of the country, I suppose. There’s still a naivete about Eady that we should all just expect from our YA heroines, as any female (or human, for that matter) under the age of 25 is still most certainly trying to figure out who she is and what she wants out of life. Eady is better off than most, I’ll admit. She knows that she will be queen, that she does not need a partner to rule alongside her, that she is strong and powerful and beautiful. Her mantra, which she repeats to herself on a number of occasions throughout the book is, “You are Eadlyn Schreave. No one is as powerful as you”.
I am grateful to Kiera Cass for writing a character like Eadlyn. A strong, confident woman who refuses to be bullied, but who is willing to make sacrifices for her family and for her country, to which she feels an immense sense of duty. She is not your typical entitled royal – she knows the weight of the crown. She has seen the accelerated rate at which her father has aged under the heavy burden of it. She is terrified, yet committed to assuming that burden and relieving him from his post when the time comes. And best of all, she does not define herself by her relationships with men. She is comfortable in her own skin and her primary concerns lie with the health and happiness of her country and its people. Of course, then comes The Selection. This tradition was meant to have become history, along with the law that would have prevented Eadlyn from ascending to the throne. However, desperate times call for desperate measures.
You see, one of his first orders of business when Maxon Schreave ascended to the throne was to abolish the caste system. He did so slowly, over the course of some number of years, dissolving the castes from the bottom-up. The intent was to make the transition easy on the subjects of Illéa and, for a time, there was peace and the country thrived. Once the new generation – the first generation not born into a world of labels and forced occupations – had grown & began following their dreams and seeking occupations of their own, it became clear that the older generations had not let go of the castes. Young men & women are being denied jobs due to the former castes that had defined their families for generations. If something is bound to cause social unrest, it’s being denied the freedoms you have been promised. Eventually, of course, unrest turns into acts of violence and general tension across the country – sound familiar?
The Selection is intended to be a distraction – a joyous event to bring the country together, much like the birth of each of the King & Queen’s four children. Of course, according to Eady’s parents, it wouldn’t hurt if she found love along the way, but the ultimate goal and purpose of The Selection is to buy time while the king creates a plan to address the impending revolution. Eady is reluctant to participate, but ultimately agrees for the benefit of her father and the country. The ultimate question, though, is whether or not Eadlyn can find love in the same way her parents did twenty years before. Or whether she even wants to.
“The Heir” is grittier (although by no means a “gritty” tale) than its predecessors, with less focus on the opulence of the palace and the royal family and more time spent developing and examining relationships between characters. We get the opportunity to witness the self-discovery of a princess through her interaction with 35 boys she never wanted there in the first place. As she learns to open her mind and her heart to people outside of her immediate family, she begins to see things through different lenses, with clarity and wisdom beyond her years.
I highly recommend this series (particularly this 4th installment) to anyone with a love for Young Adult literature. Fans of fairytale re-tellings will be doubly pleased with the series as a whole. I reiterate: Kiera Cass has outdone herself with “The Heir”.