By Maria V. Snyder
As she is about to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered a choice: to die immediately, or be food taster for the Commander. However, she soon learns that to become the food taster is to soon die a slow death, but cannot escape as her captor, the chief of security, is in possession of the only antidote to a poison he fed her on her first day. Unable to escape, she must to all to survive, as disasters mount and she is targeted by her murder victim's father. In the meantime, she uncovers a plot to seize the country, another obstacle in her fight for survival.
Reading Level: Grade 8/9
Maturity Level: Generally 14+ (Violence, brutal themes, torture, suggests rape)
Personally, I recommend this book since it brutal in a non-permanently mentally disturbing way, and the protagonist is a strong female character without being cliché. It's fairly well written but it's the plot that makes it worth it. Plus there's barely and romance in it thank god.
If you liked this, you might also like Graceling, the Black Magician Trilogy, and Eon.