Lauren D. M. Smith won Harlequin’s 2015 So You Think You Can Write contest with this book. (From what I can determine, it appears that this was the last time that this contest was run.) I had heard some positive buzz about the book at the time the book was published in 2016, so when I saw a deal price on this book last year I bought it and it entered my ever towering TBR list. I picked this book out of the digital pile because I was in the mood for a fantasy read. (Thank goodness most of my TBR is digital, or I would long ago have smothered under a pile of physical books. I know the motto of this site is that there is always room for one more book, but my TBR is out of control and I am trying to reduce the number of unread books that I own. But really, who can resist a 99 cent book with good ratings on Goodreads and Amazon?)
The Emperor’s Arrow is the story of Evony of Aureline, an Amazzi warrior, and Emperor Galen, the conqueror of all of the people in the world of the book. Bride candidates have been summoned from each of the lands under Galen’s control, to compete in contests to determine whom Galen should pick as his bride. Evony is from a land that is primarily made up of warrior women, with very few men. The scarcity of men is never really explained, but it does mean that some women need to leave their island to find a man to “stud”, so that she can have a child. Evony sees the bride contest primarily as a way to find such a man for herself. Evony is a very capable warrior, and also is very level headed and logical in her thinking, and does not see herself as the eventual bride, nor does she really want to be that bride.
The world building was interesting, but I also found it a bit confusing at first – lots of political affiliations and characters from different places thrown out at the beginning, and it made it a bit difficult to remember who was who. This is to be expected in a fantasy that takes place in a world that is not ours, but it also made it difficult because you also need to be able to make a connection with some of these characters in order to care about what happens to them. People are sent home at the end of various challenges, but there were so many characters named it really was not possible to keep them all straight until the numbers were winnowed quite a bit. And then, it was hard to remember any characteristics of these people.
I also found it interesting that Amazzi was mainly populated by women (although Evony does have a brother), but it is never really explained why mostly daughters are born there. This is a minor quibble, but since the men are mostly from outside the Amazzi, and male genetic contribution determines the sex of a child, it is very unusual that Amazzi offspring are mostly female. Of course, genetics could work differently in this world than it does in ours, but this really bugged the biologist in me every time it was brought up. Some kind of explanation would have been appreciated.
At first I really liked Evony, but after a while she became annoying. She had no flaws or faults, and was practically unbeatable in any situation. She also felt that she was the only one who knew how to properly protect anyone, to the point you wondered how Galen had actually conquered an entire world and survived, since he and his troops did not understand how to properly protect him. At one point, Evony demonstrates to Galen that he could be attacked from above by hiding in trees and jumping on him when he rides by. It seems a bit ridiculous that Galen would not know this.
The first part of the book was the most interesting, with the bridal contests, and Evony discovering Galen’s court. There was a lot of imagination put into the workings of this world, and I enjoyed reading about it. The romance is a bit rushed, however, and I really did not buy it. There has to be a bit of a build up, or it just feels as if the author decided that this was when they would fall for each other, without laying the groundwork for it. Eventually I started to find Evony’s perfection tiring. I also found that at the end of the book, the plot seemed to be working against what we had been told about her warrior experience. She did things that seemed the exact opposite of what seems to make logical sense for an experienced security person. I understand why the plot needed her to do certain things, but don’t have her do them while telling me this is better for someone’s safety, when in fact you are opening them up to be more accessible to people with evil intent.
I realize that most of my comments are negative, but as a first book I see a lot of potential here. I would definitely read this author again.