When I first read the description for this book, I scoffed. A young man casts off the chains of slavery and infiltrates high society on a secret mission to overthrow his cruel masters . . . and his first task is to survive high school. Insert eye-roll here. That was my rather lackluster first impression.
Gorydamn. I was way, way, waaaaaaaaaay off.
The hype is not a lie. This is one hell of a story told with really impressive skill considering it's touted as Brown's first novel. What a debut! World building = awesome. Characterization = awesome. Plot = awesome. Little details like the metallic Colors having their metal's periodic symbol in their name = awesome. The only thing that keeps me from rating it higher is the narrative style.
First person present tense is one of my least favorite narrative styles. Sometimes I don't mind it, and sometimes I don't even notice it (Lauren Beukes and Patrick Ness, for example, are really good at present tense), but I found it particularly jarring here, especially combined with the almost stilted, high-fantasy-esque language. It just didn't work for me. The only time I didn't find it unnatural and distracting was when Darrow was recounting past events (in past tense).
If first person present tense doesn't bother you and you like sci-fi and/or kick-ass war games, read this book. If you don't like first person present tense, read this book anyway. It's worth it.