Kelendra is an entertaining but reserved character as she has been raised by her family to endure The Process. They've done her best to use their meager resources to make her spectacularly lovely in hopes of getting her accepted as one of the Beautiful Ones. It's something Kelendra never got a chance to particularly want for herself and when she is accepted, doesn't quite know what to do with herself since it separates her from the only life she's ever known.
If I had to describe this, I'd say this is something akin to a PG-13 version of The Handmaid's Tale. There's even a figure known ominously as the Commandant who develops a liking for Kelendra's best friend (and goes after her in a subdued but horrifying scene). There's also elements of The Hunger Games with the entirety of Kelendra's village being fascinated by the prospect of her becoming a Beautiful One even as they expect to never see her again.
The world-building is exceptionally well done as Kody draws on the Antebellum South and Civil War motifs to give a sense of what the world is like. It is definitely in the future but not so far in the future that the Old World is completely forgotten. Indeed, it's implied it may be only a few decades away from now with the dystopian Glittering City having been built in the aftermath of the United States' recent fall.
Do I have any issues? Well, one. The thing is that being a Beautiful One doesn't actually seem to be that bad. You're required to be in an arranged marriage but Kelendra is set up with a young man of her own age, who seems to be every bit the kind of pleasant and good person she is. It also does rescue her from poverty and near-starvation.
When dealing with a bunch of eugenics-obsessed bad guys, I kept expecting some terrible twist: that Kelendra was actually asexual or gay, her husband to be was, her husband to be was abusive, or the Beautiful Ones were meant to be harem girls for the rich and powerful of the city. Kelendra is horrified by the thought of getting married so young and having children but arranged marriages were the way things went for most of human history. At the least least, I was expecting a horrible racial undercurrent to exist to the Process but I didn't see any evidence of that either.
This is a small issue, though, as I genuinely enjoyed following Kelendra through her journey. She is a passive character but incredibly perceptive. I really did sympathize with the fact she's being taken from her loved ones for the promise of a new life she's not sure she wants for herself. There also are many hints to just how horrifying this society is with the majority of lower-class men having been conscripted into what is implied to be a WW1-esque meatgrinder. I immediately picked up and read the second book after finishing the first one and suspect you will too. I rarely comment on covers but I also feel the artist for this one should be commended--it's a really lovely work.