In an author’s note at the beginning of my review copy of The Betrothed, Kiera Cass mentions that the 1500s era is one of her inspirations for her latest book. I mention this because it is an important note. The Betrothed is not a rewrite of The Selection series. It is a clean and somewhat idealized version of what it was like to be of noble/titled birth and have to live near the king. There are strict rules and etiquette one must follow at all times. There is no privacy, and there is almost always fear that one wrong word could have disastrous consequences for your family depending on the type of ruler.
That being said, I think Ms. Cass did a fantastic job of showing how stifling life at court can be, how limited you are in your ability to make independent decisions. Through other families, we see firsthand the terror an erratic or despotic ruler can create among his or her gentry. With Hollis, we get to see that being a princess or queen is not all presents and fancy gowns. There is a level of scrutiny that occurs with such high ranking that most people would struggle to accept.
I am giving the impression that The Betrothed is dark and dreary, and that is far from the truth. In actuality, the story is light-hearted, fun, and decadent, but it has a bite to it. Reading it is akin to wearing that perfect prom/wedding dress with shoes that slightly pinch your toes. Ms. Cass might like and write about all the pretty things, but she does not hesitate to go dark when the story requires her to do so.
To me, this ability to flit between the inconsequential and the serious is what I enjoyed most about The Betrothed. The romantic tension hides a more serious underlying story that I am anxious to see unfold. Hollis proves herself to be more than a pretty face and shows substantial grit at the story’s end. In all, The Betrothed is another strong addition to the book world by Kiera Cass.