Honestly I expected something different going into this book. I hadn't read any reviews, as I had enjoyed Host's fantasy Champion of the Rose (which when I think about it had a lot of science fiction elements, just as this had a lot of fantasy elements) and had won this in a giveaway besides. Told in diary format, which one of my least favorite formats, This Cassandra's journey from November to March and is the first in a trilogy.
Part of why I enjoyed this book so much is that its one of my favorite plot devices (ordinary girl shuttled off to an unusual world where she finds out she's special) while at the same time Cassandra was immediately relatable for me. Cassandra isn't extraordinarily gifted in any way, not athletic or a outdoorsy survivalist or terribly crafty. She is extremely resourceful, knows how to make years of pop culture work to her advantage and maintains an appropriately sarcastic level of commentary throughout her diary entries.
I'll fully admit that if Cass hadn't grown on me I wouldn't have finished this book. Diary style books tends to make me feel like its just one huge info-dump (which in ways it is) and as a reader we never actually experience anything. Even as later on Cass finds it easier to relay conversations and events, we were getting everything second hand. Its hard to feel immersed in a world like that. Cass was engaging, that's the only way I can describe her. She admits her faults (at one point she tells her diary that she cuts out all the hysterical crying and sobbing she does during the day since that would make for boring reading wouldn't it?), but remains practical about what she can get done.
The world of Muina, and later Tare, that Cass winds up in is like our world but not really. There's a higher focus on psychic abilities--with a definitive break in society between those who are 'elite' (the Setari) and those who are not (everyone else). The Setari spend much of their lives training to become as perfect as possible in order to protect everyone from the Ionoth (monsters) and are regarded as super stars. I found the entire civilization rather fascinating, though its rather rigid and militaristic (with I suppose good reason) and I wouldn't have fared half as well as Cass I don't think.
Host sets a good pace throughout the novel, giving us plenty of time to see 'Survivor-Cass' and then 'Lab Rat Cass'. We read about a lot of day-to-day activities, which get kind of repetitive after a while interspersed with learning new things about Tare and Cass. It seems like an awful lot happens to Cass in the 5 or so months she's gone from Earth, but to put it in perspective the Taren years is only 4 months long, their equation of time is slightly off from ours.
Unfortunately we see very little of the world outside of the Setari stronghold. Cass' early wanderings before the government takes a keen interest in her don't last long and her brief excursions to go shopping are pretty unremarkable overall. I would like to know more about their culture, but with the developments in the latter third that seems unlikely.
Overall this made me eager for the next book, Lab Rat One and excited for the third book, Caszandra coming this December.
(reviewed 35 days after purchase)