Cover Lust: If this was a print copy, it would illuminate any bookshelf. A sparkling waterfront castle, the signature Selection tiara, a golden sunset theme…it’s pure radiance. There seems to be a color theme on the covers that symbolize the characters in this series. Could the gold be representing the color of Aspen’s button?
Description: Before America Singer met Prince Maxon…
Before she entered the Selection…
She was in love with a boy named Aspen Leger.
The Book: We know America’s story, we’ve heard from Prince Maxon, and now we finally get to see things from Aspen’s POV. America’s first love plays a pivotal role in her decisions in the Selection. Most of us are definitely Team Maxon, but will hearing Aspen’s story persuade us to lean his way? Surprisingly, you might just love Aspen a tiny bit after he shows you how much he truly cares for America. The Guard (#2.5) shows you who Aspen really is on the inside, not just what we know from America.
Backstory: Aspen had been planning on proposing to America but was waiting for the inescapable draft. He was afraid of leaving her; he could return from service four years later or be sent back in a box. He couldn’t bear either possibility. His anxiety led him to pushing her to sign up for the Selection and breaking up with her. He was then drafted and coincidentally ended up at the royal palace. He’s as close as he could possibly be to America, but at same time very far away. Unable to interact with her publicly, he crazily pursues her despite the danger.
The Plot: *MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE ELITE (#2) AHEAD*
“I”m a Six! Underneath whatever uniform they put on me, I’m still a kid from Carolina, and that’s not going away.”
The story takes place during the aftermath of the Halloween party and the two rebel attacks. Aspen watches the caning with several other guards and America’s maids. The palace staff cheers for America but also begs her to stop, afraid she will be hurt or eliminated. It’s obvious that she’s a favorite among the workers. Everyone is greatly impressed by her bravery and loyalty to her friend. The palace is abuzz with gossip. The consensus is that Marlee and Carter’s punishment was wrong, even if they broke the law. How can true love be considered unlawful? If anything, it just made it easier for Maxon to make an elimination.
Aspen roams the palace day by day in search of America. Even though he witnessed firsthand what could happen to them, he seeks out opportunities for them to be together secretly. The sneaking around leads them to fall back into their old patterns. Aspen believes America still loves him and is determined to win her back. He tries convincing her that Maxon is evil, just like the rest of the monarchy, and has no good intentions toward her.
Given his position as a guard, Aspen observes everyone in the palace. He’s fixated on Prince Maxon, King Clarkson, and America’s maids. He’s angry at Maxon for what he did to Marlee. He hates Clarkson for enforcing the caste system. But he has nothing but good feelings towards the ladies who take care of America. As he gets to know Anne, Mary, and Lucy, he realizes he’s happiest when he’s spending time with them. They are generous, kind, and humorous. Anne is always busy and a little distant, but Mary and Lucy continuously express their appreciation for Aspen. He is genuine towards them and treats them with a great deal of respect. He treats them like real people who matter, not just Sixes who are meant to serve. All three girls look up to Aspen, hanging on to his every word. They are adoring and obviously crushing on him, especially Lucy. But Aspen only has eyes for America. He’s determined to make up for his mistakes and win her back.
But America doesn’t want to be won. She doesn’t want to a prize. She wants to choose, not necessarily a person, but whatever it is that will make her happy. While she’s still wavering between Maxon and Aspen, she’s giving Aspen hope. She’s letting him back in. Aspen realizes America is growing from her experience at the palace. It’s something he is struggling with. He was a Six and suddenly thrown into the life of a Two. He’s finally able to take care of his family and never go hungry, but it’s not everything he thought it would be. Aspen doesn’t want to be a caste-climber; he wants to be the same guy he was in Carolina. He doesn’t want his status to change the way he sees the world, to make him forget what it was like to have nothing. He feels like he has something to prove, while America seems different. Does she really want to be a princess? If she doesn’t win the Selection, she’ll still be a Three. Would she and Aspen be able to adjust to lives as a Two and a Three? The wife of a guard would lead an excessive yet lonely life. Could things ever be as they once were?
- Aspen: After hearing his story, I have a soft spot for Aspen. He’s actually very generous and selfless when it comes to people he cares about, like Woodwork and Lucy. But he’s a total whiny bitch when it comes to America. He’s overbearing, obsessive, and compulsive. He’s constantly doing things to put her in danger and is always bashing Maxon, even though he really knows nothing about him. But he’s young, in love, and desperate to make amends, so this makes his character more real and likable than in the previous stories.
- Woodwork: Carter Woodwork is only seen from afar. We don’t actually hear from him, but Aspen recalls times spent with him and things they have in common. Woodwork was a Seven and, like Aspen, lost his father and took on a supportive role for his large family. He is uneducated but smart. Aspen has a lot of respect for him. He knows Woodwork must love Marlee more than anything if he was willing to risk everything for her.
- Avery: Aspen’s roommate, guard partner, and the best friend he’s ever had. Going through training together bonded them like brothers. They seem to think the same and communicate nonverbally while in combat. Avery is wise and always ready to listen and offer a kind word. He saves Aspen’s life when he is attacked by a rebel.
- King Clarkson: Clarkson is cruel and aggressive, a true megalomaniac. Caste-cutting and killing orders are his frequent tactics for dealing with those suspected of helping rebels. Even if he has no proof, he’ll quickly off a whole city to threaten his subjects into submission. He craves total control, including over Maxon. He treats his son terribly, constantly dismissing his thoughts and ideas. He orders him around and shows absolutely no affection towards him. Clarkson also doesn’t hide his contempt for America, who he considers the “throwaway.”
- Lucy: It’s clear as day that Lucy is crushing hard on Aspen. They both flirt with each other subtly. Aspen seems to have some kind of feelings for her as well; he’s just not quite sure what they are. Aspen watches her, noticing her little tics, and has a need to protect her. Aspen’s kindness means a great deal to Lucy. She is a complete sweetheart, doing little things to show her appreciation and opens up to him, revealing personal things like the loss of her mother. She adores him, but Aspen is conflicted over his feelings for America. Is Lucy just a friend, or something more?
What’s Next: After reading The Guard (#2.5), I’m still definitely Team Maxon, but I kind of love Aspen now. He’s a little possessive, but he can also be kind and generous. Sending Woodwork’s mother his own money, denying that money to his mother, is so sweet. Sure, he’s got his faults, but who doesn’t?He’s a good person who’s just made some serious mistakes. He loves America so much that he let her go, hoping she could live a life full of things he could never give her. He didn’t do it the right way, but his intentions were good. Even if America forgives him, he broke her heart. Her trust in him was shattered. She’s already tried to heal and now has feelings for another guy. How is she supposed to just let that go, something new and exciting and comforting? Is it fair for Aspen to deny her of that?
Regardless of what he did to America, Aspen is loyal friend and honest person. He’s a hard worker who is very good at what he does. He does things because they are right, not for recognition. He’s a natural guard; being drafted was meant to be for him. He’s going to do great things, I know it. We’ll find out more in the conclusion of the story of the Selection, The One (#3).
Best Quotes: (SPOILERS)
- “Any girl who would risk her life for someone she loves certainly deserves to be called a lady.”
- “There’s an art to making people suffer. The palace seemed to have it mastered.”
- “Here are some extra hugs. Could you go by my house and give them to my family for me?”
- “Everything doesn’t seem like anything when you love someone.”
- “I”m a Six! Underneath whatever uniform they put on me, I’m still a kid from Carolina, and that’s not going away.”
- “We know you’re strong, but accepting help is its own kind of strength.”
- “What would I fight for in this world if I wasn’t fighting for her?”
What did you think of The Guard? Are you Team Maxon or Team Aspen? Sound off in the comments below!