This was an amazing, slowly-building, page-turner of a book that was incredible in so many ways. I don't even know where to begin. One of the most astounding things about this book is that in the beginning it really isn't that good. The writing is clunky and the characters seem flat. But then, as Cassia develops as a character her voice develops as well until it is filled with a type of impossible-to-describe poetry. As brilliant as the premise is, its the combination of all the elements that really make this book fantastic. The plot, through slow-moving, is exceptionally crafted. There's a sense of something more lurking just below the surface and despite its lack of action, this book manages to be nearly unputdownable. Though the Society Cassia lives in is said to be peaceful there's a constant threat of danger just under the surface, a threat of Cassia losing everything she loves if it's discovered that she's read poems she shouldn't and is falling for a boy who isn't her Match.
Surprisingly, despite being less developed than other parts of the novel, it's the characters that really made this story for me. Cassia herself is absolutely wonderful as she dares to step out of the box and push the envelope of what's expected and demanded of her. The journey she takes from the first page to the last is an overwhelming one with a few unexpected turns, but she has a kind of quiet, inner strength that you don't often find in the protagonists of dystopian or sci-fi, who are typically more kick-ass than kind and loving. But Cassia - and those around her - is loving. She cares deeply about not only her family, but also Xander and Ky (the boy she wasn't supposed to be Matched with). She breaks the rules, yes, but there's a limit to what she's willing to risk. Like Cassia, the other characters around her are also quiet risk-takers. From Ky, who gets by on being absolutely average and knows how to write by hand to Xander, who's willing to hide forbidden items for Cassia and bend the rules for their friends, to Cassia's parents and grandfather who each rebel in their own small way to protect the ones they love. However, despite all these things I wanted more from these characters and their relationships. Though Cassia is incredible and amazing and I want to be friends with her omg, other characters are less developed. I was surprised at how much of the time Xander wasn't in the book, as well as how ambivalent I felt towards Ky.
Despite having a premise that revolves around a love triangle, I just didn't feel it. There was no love triangle, really, not for Cassia. It's not about her choosing between Xander and Ky; it's about her fighting to be able to choose at all. And while this is absolutely wonderful and the feelings between her and Ky are undeniable and well-written, the character of Ky himself wasn't very impressive. I felt that while Xander can stand on his own what makes Ky really interesting was the mere fact that Cassia found him interesting and that there was this love between them that seemed to transform things.
To put it simply: I love this book and can't wait for the rest of the trilogy. It's amazing, incredible, unexpected, etc. It's rare to find a dystopian novel as emotion- and character-driven as this one, and it works perfectly.