I loved this story - I loved the world, the characters, the storyline, the element of magic...just everything. Fantasy was my very first love way back when I was a kid and I think that these kinds of stories bring about some of the old magical feelings to make me love them even more.
Its strange as while I was reading it there were things that taken individually I would have thought I wouldn't like, but somehow combined and with Marchetta's knack for creating strong emotion, it really worked.
This is up there with my love of Jim Butcher's Codex Alera fantasy series, and Brandon Sanderson's fantasy writing...this story is complete in itself without having to read any further books in the series, although there are two more books in the series so far.
While I was reading, the thought passed through my mind that there were quite a few characters and they were not that fleshed out, but somehow, without me noticing, they were written in such a way that I really FELT what they were feeling and felt really strongly for the main characters and cared about what happened to them - its actually quite emotional at points and I love a book that moves me, even if it is with the grief of characters.
Despite being slightly predictable, this is a great fantasy/quest with adventure, mystery, magic, murder, politics, intrigue and a touch of romance. We also get strong and likeable main characters, and a nice cast of interesting and necessary/relevant secondary characters. Its a story about strength of character, the love of a nation, growing up and the sad truth that good people very often stand by and let bad things happen...I was sad to finish the book and leave the world behind.