This book was such delicious YA fantasy awesomeness and I really enjoyed it. It didn't hurt that it utilized some of my favorite devices: girl disguised as a boy, boarding school setting, and a romance that was subtle and believable (NO insta-love). The prologue set the stage nicely and once I started this book, I had a hard time putting it down. The pacing is good and the story is told in a way that makes you want to keep reading to find out what happens next until suddenly you reach a point where you NEED to know what happens next and then there's no going back after that. The story is heavily driven by prophecies and seeing how everything plays out is thrilling and intriguing.
The characters are fantastic, especially our two protagonists. Iolanthe aka Archer Fairfax is an awesome heroine - her personality is endearing, she's brave, level-headed, strong (uhm, as I'm writing this, I'm starting to realize that maybe she was a little TOO perfect. Oh well, whatever, it didn't bother me). She possesses incredible magical powers and is destined to defeat the Bad Guy.
And then there's Titus, the Prince of the Domain, who has spent years meticulously preparing for the time when he and Iolanthe would finally meet, as she is the only one who can help him with his secret goal. But while Iolanthe's power is the key to everything, the day they meet also starts the clock ticking for the prince and marks his impending death.
"The beginning of the end, for his prophesied role was that of a mentor, a stepping-stone--the one who did not survive to the end of the quest."
This is revealed very early on in the book and I have to say, with that sentence I was pretty much a goner when it came to the prince. There was an air of tragedy that surrounded him, and despite all his highly calculated actions and necessarily aloof demeanor, there was never a scene with him where my heart didn't break a little for the guy. His character was developed very well and was one of my favorite things of the story.
The setting of this book is pretty cool -- one moment you're holding your breath as Iolanthe and Titus battle dragons and wyverns in a castle and then later you can find yourself cheering Fairfax in a cricket match and grinning at the easy camaraderie amongst the rowdy boys of Eton College. While I was definitely confused in the beginning about how the magical world and 19th century London existed together, it did eventually click in my head and I found myself able to roll with the world-building -- it was actually kinda fun. This probably isn't for the heavy duty fantasy readers, but it was great for what it was. The end was a tiny bit unsatisfying (it felt a little anticlimactic), but I'll definitely be reading the next book -- and don't worry, no cliffhanger.