This was the case with The poison throne by Celine Kiernan; while I hadn't heard much about it, I liked the excerpt I'd read, so decided to give it a try.
From GoodReads: 15-year-old Wynter Moorehawke returns home after a five-year sojourn in the bleak Northlands. All has changed in her absence. Wynter is forced to make a terrible choice: stay and bow to the King's will, or abandon her ailing father and join her friend Razi and the mysterious Christopher Garron in their efforts to restore the fragile kingdom to its former stability. But this changed kingdom is a dangerous place, where all resistance is brutally suppressed and the trio constantly risk assassination, torture or imprisonment.
First, I love the cover. It evokes a kick-ass heroine, striding off with her sword to conquer or save the day or whatever she needs to do. And while the blurb sounded a tad cheesy, the pages I read were good.
Unfortunately (plot spoiler!), nothing really happens in the book. Wynter arrives at the fortress with her father on page one; she then hangs out, meets a guy, does some work, and leaves in the last chapter.
Don't get me wrong, there's certainly suspense in the book. There's torture, and death, and secret plots, and treason, and mystery. But nothing really changes. Character A is tortured, and is unhappy and beaten up aftewards, but nothing's changed. Character B is forced to betray his best friend, and is unhappy about it, but nothing changes. For a lot of the book, the characters are holed up in their bedrooms, communicating via a secret passageway between the rooms; and to me, that's just not interesting.
I liked Wynter, the main character; I liked her father; I liked her friend; I liked the conflict presented in the book. I loved the concept of the talking cats and ghosts; I liked the whole concept of the book. But somehow in delivery it didn't quite make it.
A few things bothered me. The relationship between Wynter and her love interest seems to go from blind, distrustful hatred on first meeting to absolute trust and friendship, very quickly — not buying it.
Another sudden about-face was the previously awesome king (a) turned into a tyrant very quickly for no discernible reason and (b) isn't particularly tyrannical for a tyrant. Those may sound like contradictory problems. But as far as (a) goes, the characters keep talking about these harsh laws and terrible things the king is doing; but when you meet him, he doesn't seem evil at all. But nor does he seem like a genuinely confused man doing bad things for a good reason, which I assume is what the author wants us to feel. Again — not buying it.
It's possible a couple of unexplained things, like the king's sudden about-face, are explained in the next two books. But for me, while I don't mind waiting till the end of one book to find out whodunnit — while I don't even mind waiting till the end of a trilogy to find out what the mysterious Machine behind it all is — I do need some small mysteries explained, like the king, to help me understand the characters. Because if I can't believe in the characters, I'm not going to buy the next book.
It also seemed to me as though the author's a little idealistic in terms of who she wanted her character to be. She makes a point of saying how Wynter's grown up in court, how she knows how to lie and, essentially, talk pretty. But throughout the book, Wynter seems to be a terrible liar, disobeys an almost direct order from the king (who pretends not to notice her disobedience — terrible tyrant. I would make a much better tyrant, they should cast me as the evil king instead), and is basically as undiplomatic as possible. I cringed at times. I have to say, I like a bit of deception in my fictional heroines, a little bit of knowing when to lie and when to play nice, a little bit of turning situations to your own advantage, a little bit of playing the game. I certainly don't expect a heroine to be like that — but when she advertises her own deceit and then shows none whatsoever, I'm not impressed.
I don't know if it comes through, but I didn't hate this book by any means. It was fine. I liked the characters, I thought the concept was really good, and I'm mildly interested to find out what happens in the end. But the unresolved character mysteries and lack of action just spoiled the book for me, and I won't be buying the other two books in the trilogy.