Title: The Selection Stories: The Guard
Author: Kiera Cass
Publication Year: 2014
Read: February 2014
Where It Came From: Barnes and Noble
Rating: 2 stars
The Quick and Dirty:
In a small tide-you-over novella in the Selection trilogy, Aspen, a palace guard, tries to convince the love of his life to forget about the prince with whom she may be in love. Largely a reprint of the Aspen-America chapters of The Elite, it's only meant for fans of the series. Possibly only fans of Aspen will truly be able to appreciate it, but the paperback book comes with some extra content and the first three chapters of spring's The One.
The Wordy Version:
Last year Alyssa, waiting eagerly for The Elite, discovered her library had an available digital copy of the companion novella, The Prince, and discovered that it had little merit aside from being something to read while waiting for the next part of the series. A little later, Alyssa caved into her craving and bought a hardcover Elite, and kindly sent it to me as soon as she was done. I wasn’t so impatient last year, but this year it seems I am VERY impatient for the rest of the story of America and Maxon (or Aspen, if the series takes a terrible turn), and when I saw The Selection Stories on a shelf in a Barnes and Noble, I barely tried to resist. I was sold as soon as I saw there were family trees for all three main characters, tracing them all back to the fascinating (if confusing) era of Gregory Illéa. (And now it’s on its way to A as a thank-you for lending The Elite.)
As a refresher, the Selection trilogy takes place in a post-WWIV North America, which is now the monarchial kingdom of Illéa. Tradition has it that the young crown prince of Illéa marries a commoner after winnowing down his options from a pool of 35 candidates. Seventeen-year-old America Singer, a musician of lower-middle caste, enters the draw at the behest of the love of her life, Aspen, whose caste and poverty is even less desirable than her own. Heartbroken by Aspen’s insistence that America try to find a better life than he can offer her, America enters the Selection in a decidedly unromantic mood that appeals to Crown Prince Maxon.
(Now come the spoilers) Maxon and America become friends despite some misunderstandings, and all seems on the track to True Love until America discovers that Aspen is now a guard at the palace (which has elevated his caste and given him both a great income and the confidence to pursue America’s love). When a more serious misunderstanding occurs between them (America believes Maxon is cold-hearted to allow a couple caught breaking the draconian law she herself often ignores to be punished), Aspen puts his life and America’s at risk to have secret meetings and agree that Maxon is not worthy of her love.
Author Kiera Cass has been rather vocal about her love for both of America’s love interests, especially as readers last spring began to complain that Aspen’s actions in The Elite were not so laudable. She was excited to give readers a better perspective of Aspen in the new novella included in this collection, and I was uncharacteristically optimistic that she could present Aspen, “The Guard,” as something other than an emotionally abusive ass in a story taking place during the timeline of The Elite.
And for the first 15-25 pages of the novella, things seemed to be pointing towards a sympathetic portrayal of Aspen. Following a dance between America and Maxon, Aspen seems to realize that the Amerispen ship sailed years ago, and it’s Maxerica that’s in port. He then shows some sense the morning of the punishment, sending America’s maids to comfort her and calming America’s family. Even when Aspen determines, “If Maxon truly was [sic] a decent man, America never would have been in this situation in the first place,” I’m kind of on his side. He’s jumping to conclusions about Maxon, but he’s nineteen and that’s as good a time as ever to jump to conclusions.
But then Aspen starts leaping to much more dangerous conclusions. Seeing that America has been crying, he declares, “I knew—I knew—she was supposed to be mine.” America thanks him for offering help, and “With her words, [he] knew without a doubt: she loved [him].” My margin notes suggest that Aspen could do with a lesson from Mr. Darcy about the difference between gratitude and love.
Roughly a third of the way through the story the parts I found most objectionable in The Elite return with no improvement. Aspen didactically tells America,
“The thing about Maxon is that he’s an actor. He’s always putting on this perfect face, like he’s so above everything. But he’s just a person, and he’s as messed up as anyone is. I know you cared about him or you wouldn’t have stayed here. But you have to know now that it’s not real.”This is a line in The Elite and may be there just because it needed to follow the original story, but this line makes NO SENSE in the context of what Aspen has been witnessing in his duties in the palace. I can’t figure out why Kiera Cass dropped it in without showing Maxon doing something slightly duplicitous in front of Aspen in this novella. Without context all I can say about Aspen’s advice to America is that it is CREEPY. I can’t help assuming that he’s made up this whole side of Maxon’s character to serve his own purposes. And there would have been plenty of things Aspen COULD have said about Maxon that wouldn’t have come across so poorly. Like, “America, I hate that Maxon hasn’t been able to make you feel better about your friend, or even been able to explain how he could stand by and watch her suffer.” Instead we get Aspen’s next line from The Elite: “I know it’s hard to believe, but I’m really sorry Maxon turned out to be such a bad guy.”
Alyssa observed that The Prince didn’t add anything to The Selection by repeating the dialogue through a different character’s perspective, and this is entirely true for the sections of The Guard that come from The Elite. But there were a few things that were genuinely interesting and seem to offer tantalizing possibilities for the final volume of the trilogy. We learn a little more about the political situation in the south of Illéa, and that the guards at the palace are getting superpower injections.
And if all that weren’t enough to convince you to pick up the book, there are two more chapters to extend The Prince to Maxon’s decision to keep America around after she knees him on a date. PLUS the family trees and small backstories (some juicy murder in the royal past), and the first three chapters of The One.