I'm sorry to say it... but this was just not a very good book.
Like the majority of this book's readers, I discovered it through Jenna Moreci's YouTube channel, where she posts entertaining videos with writing advice. Having read through the sample chapters way back when, I didn't suspect this would be the book for me, but when it went on sale for $0.99, I figured what the heck. She's a bestselling author. Let's see what I can learn.
Spoilers: not a whole lot. But let's start with the things I liked.
I like the concept. I think the idea of hosting a tournament where men compete for the Savior's hand is fun. I like the idea of the historic, alternate-universe setting. I like the idea of the Savior going undercover. I like the idea of a respectful romance between the two leads.
Unfortunately, while the ideas were sound, the execution failed to deliver.
The tournament was not great. If you're going to use the term "labyrinth", either deliver on the premise of the word or choose a different one. Saying it used to be a labyrinth but it's not anymore isn't a good excuse, especially given the book's tagline. I went into the story with expectations that weren't met, and that's doesn't create a positive reading experience. Also, the labyrinth is only the first half of the book. Again, given the book's tagline, I thought it would be the main setting. And since the challenges aren't contained to the labyrinth, there isn't really anything unique about it. It wasn't essential to the tournament.
The structure of the tournament itself was extremely vague. People had to die, but you didn't have to kill anyone. The only way out of the tournament was to win, except if the Savior or the Sovereign just decided to let you go. The tournament was 30 days long, and most of that time was spent just hanging out? There was no sense of life-or-death. The challenges felt more like random interruptions to the bro time than the point of the story. Everyone was extremely chummy with each other, even though the vast majority were destined to die. For such a hallmark event, there was very little pomp and circumstance. It was hard to take it seriously.
Contributing to my lack of buy-in was the choice of wording. The writing leaned archaic, but distinctly modern words (like plop, or scuttle, or bark) really undermined the intent. It hurt the setting and the mood, and since everybody got the same verbs and adjectives, it certainly didn't help the characterization.
I had a really hard time keeping track of everyone. The cast was large to begin with, and all the competitors had laurels that were used interchangeably with their names. About a third of the way through the book I had no idea who was who. Worse, I didn't really care.
As for the characterization of our lead, Tobias, he was as bland a character as any I've read. A Gary Stu in every way. Need somebody who can swim? Tobias. Need somebody who can solve puzzles? Tobias. Need somebody who can learn swordplay in a matter of hours and defeat a mercenary? Tobias! The dude could do everything, and his mad skillz were almost always chalked up to his emotions. He was just so mad, or so devoted, or so focused that logic went out the window. I can overlook that trope once, but it was used over and over again. That really hurt the story's sense of urgency. Something bad's happening? No biggie, Tobias will figure it out. And it won't even be hard.
(Also, as a former competitive swimmer, it makes me crazy when books or movies have regular people swim deep underwater and hold their breath for minutes on end. That's a hard thing to do, folks. I can't suspend my disbelief when something is blatantly wrong. Do your research.)
As for our romantic lead, Leila, she was a mixed bag. She was very clearly (and stereotypically) "not like the other girls", but I appreciated her take-no-bullshit attitude and thought she was the most defined character in the story. I knew she was the true Savior before I read the book, so I can't speak to the plot twist, but I will say that, as the ruler of the realm and with magical abilities to boot, she really should have had a better plan to prevent her own assassination.
The pacing in this book was a struggle. It's really, really long, and most of the scenes are devoted to non-tournament things, usually the romance. I was hoping for more action, but then again, I didn't think the action scenes were very well executed. The only action scene I thought was well done was Tobias's fight with the giant (I think it was the giant) in the arena. The rest were difficult to follow, or with no real sense of drama. Most action and/or fight scenes were about Tobias's feelings rather than what was actually playing out in the scene.
Despite the book's length and time allocated to character interaction, I didn't think much character development took place. Most of the characters were slated to die anyhow, but the ones who stuck around (like Kaleo and Flynn) had so much untapped potential. We really should have seen more from Kaleo especially. He didn't try that hard to kill Tobias, or Leila. Lots of missed opportunities there.
The ending was a real rough patch. The stakes of Leila revealing herself were unclear, the fact that she'd murdered all her father's senators but couldn't manage to kill the Sovereign himself was unconvincing, and the sudden need for Leila to flee the city felt contrived. The pacing was very rushed, and the story's last few sentences left me wondering if the author just realized she didn't know what was going to happen next. It didn't flow well. It didn't feel conclusive.
Although marketed as an adult dark fantasy novel, I would classify this as young adult. The sexualized language may skew older, but the plot and overall writing are very much YA. I can't speak to the dark fantasy part. I haven't read enough of that genre to know what counts as such.
Overall this story had a good premise, but struggled with poor structuring, inconsistent writing, and far more scenes than were necessary. I will absolutely be checking out Jenna Moreci's marketing classes, because she's clearly got a handle on that, but I don't think I'll be picking up her novels again.
One star for good ideas, one star for a healthy romantic relationship.