I want to give this story a 4-stars, I really do. I love the world that Megan Derr's created and the plot here was quite complex. We have a character with personal journey. We have characters with different powers. We have a threat to a Kingdom. The fight between bad and evil. It is imaginative and complicated ...
Unfortunately, for me, it never lives up to its potential.
It could've been better. It could've been epic. However, there are too many issues that just reduces my experience and my rating star. Recently, I read some non-MM/mainstream urban fantasy (I said "mainstream" for lack of better word -- it refers to those books being released by big publishers) and I can't help to compare or note the different "quality". This story lacks of background or information that can smooth readers reading journey.
For example, in this story, there are "fourteen branches of elite and powerful warriors and mages whose sole purpose was to defend and die for the kingdom: Dragoons, Titans, Summoners, Sorcerers, Priests, Paladins, Geomancers, Gremlins, Dredknights, Shades, Shadowmarch, Tamers, Alchemists, and the Princes of the Blood.. BUT, what do they really do? What are the differences of these elite branches? How did they came together, how do they arrive to those branches? I know that there is Bloodling procession to follow for one to become Prince of Blood, but it's mostly because it is what happened to Raffe. This information stays in the mind of the author, and it doesn't translate smoothly to the mind of the readers.
Throughout the story, we get tidbits of information but it never really come together. There's introduction of a plot suddenly in the middle -- like the break of the Eight Seals -- but then the resolution is rushed (what the HECK happens after the climax battle??! what happens to Raffe's Cambord in his new life??!) and unfinished. I don't understand about the motivation of the villain (there is an assumption of the reason from the other character, but that is not even convincing enough for me).
Then the romance ... it starts really good, with Raffe and Cambord in their night of the debauchery. Then suddenly, we have the perspective switch, from Cambord's himself, and I feel robbed of the potential of Raffe finding out his true identity. Also there's a telling rather than showing here, because it happens few months later. Cambord says that they become friends ... but how?! I want to read their scenes! I want to read how they connect to one another.
And the editing could've been better too. I see typos or words that don't flow smoothly -- and this is myself as an ESL, who sometimes cannot care less about grammar (like past vs. present tense) because I am not a native English speaker.
So yes, for me, it could've been better. I WISH it is better. But it isn't and because of that, sadly, I can only give this 3-stars. The idea is brilliant but the execution falls short.