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Secrets of the Starcrossed

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A brand new YA fantasy series for the brand new year! Welcome to an enthralling fantasy world built on the premise that the Roman Empire never fell, walling themselves and their technology into Londinium in an effort to keep the Britons and their magic out.

Cassandra is one of the elite, a rich merchants daughter. Betrothed to Marcus, her one true match and the cities most eligible bachelor she has everything she ever wanted in life, and in her future. However, when what seems like a chance encounter with a mysterious boy in her civics class makes her question everything about the city she lives in, the code all citizens live by and her very own identity, all three become embroiled in a rebellion at the very heart of Roman government.

So I really, really loved the concept and the world building - not many books fuse modernity, technology and magic and I wish that they did - but I just could not get on board with the magic system, it just seemed a bit too nebulous for me. I also found the plot a little predictable, though still enjoyable. The twists just did not have the intended impact, because they were all eminently possible. I also did not find the romance aspect of the book all that convincing, with a little too much tell and not enough show going on.

However, I did rather enjoy it; this is one of those books that either like me you’ll find enjoyable and move on, or it will really speak to you and you’ll be clamouring for the next one, so do give it a go of a good YA fantasy series full of forbidden romance, oppressive states and imminent danger is your cup of tea! I can’t say how much I loved the world it is set in enough.

Secrets of the Starcrossed is out this Thursday, so do go order a copy from all the usual places!
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Imagine the Roman Empire never fell – now, imagine how different the world would be today if it hadn't. You can explore that unimaginable world in Clara O'Connor's book The Once and Future Queen: Secrets of the Star Crossed.

What I Liked

I not only liked but truly loved the world-building in this story.  It is my favorite part of the book as a whole.  I found the concept to be intriguing and the creation well-thought-out and detailed.  I could never imagine the complexities of a society that existed as long as this one would have.  How it would have grown and changed over time.

I also think the premise is original and compelling.  Even the title brings to mind such wonders as Arthurian legend, not to mention Greek and Roman mythology.  The Roman society in the novel is corrupt and, perhaps, even cruel, and that is in keeping with how it once was as well. 
The Briton society is enigmatic and full of wonder and magic.  And, together, they have the makings of the rich and vibrant story to be told.

I liked that it ended in a cliffhanger, and I have never said those words before.  I generally do not like cliff hangers, but I thought it worked for this story.  It made me want to find out what happened next, even though I have some concerns about theme development and the story's overall tone.

Lastly, I enjoyed the magic component.  As a reader, one of my favorite aspects of fantasy stories is the inclusion of magic and how it is imagined.  In this regard, The Once and Future Queen did not disappoint.  The Roman's reaction to magic is very telling and so crucial to the plot as a whole.

What I Wish

There are some areas that I wish had been different, though.  The first thing that was problematic for me was the tone.  It took me a while to figure out what was hitting me the wrong way, but finally, I realized.  The tone is too light and even social.  There are so many bad things going on, but the tone doesn't reflect that.  As a reader, I always felt up on the surface when I should have felt down underneath with the issue's enormity.

The central theme that should go throughout the whole trilogy needed to be incorporated into the story better.  The story is told in the first person from Cassandra's perspective.  Dev did not want to share with Cassandra who he thought she was and why that is important.  And, since the story is in the first person through Cassandra's point of view, I, like Cassandra, didn't understand why it is essential to get her back to Briton and what will happen if he doesn't.  This impacted my reading of the story immensely.  Other themes are handled very well, like family, destiny, marriage, to name a few, but I never knew why this story is so important, and I needed to understand why this story is essential and what's at stake.

To Read or Not to Read
If you are looking for a fantasy story set in a creative and new world, this is a story that will whet your appetite for more.
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I requested Secrets of the Starcrossed from NetGalley because it sounded unusual. An alternative history where the Romans never left Britain, where Celtic magic exists? Sounded right up my alley. 

And boy was I right. 

The central character, Cassandra, is the daughter of a wealthy merchant in Londinium. She’s spoilt and pampered, but one day she chooses to help one of her classmates to evade arrest. From there, she gets drawn into a plot and world she never imagined existed. 

I loved Cassandra. I thought she was the perfect mix of rich girl and fighter. She doesn’t whine or throw tantrums when things don’t go her way, but fights instead. She digs her heels in and refuses to give in. I can relate. 

Devyn is the boy she saves from arrest. And over the course of Secrets of the Starcrossed they become close, and fall for each other. I loved their relationship too. Devyn is a mystery, but so far a mystery in a good way. He’s the wrong boy – but he’s not a bad boy, if that makes sense. There’s nothing weird or unsavoury about their relationship by normal standards. 

But Cassandra is engaged to her ‘match’, Marcus. In this world, young people are matched with their perfect partner through their DNA. So cue a love triangle. 

I don’t mind love triangles, especially when it’s pretty clear what the outcome is going to be. And neither Devyn nor Marcus annoyed me. They both seemed like good people, just caught in a bad situation. 

The world in Secrets of the Starcrossed is intricate. Londinium is a little futuristic. Nothing extremely high-tech, but O’Connor has clearly extrapolated from the technology we have now, and just amped it up a little. For instance, in classes, Cassandra uses a tablet. So there is no mention of pen, paper, or computers. 

But the most interesting thing about Londinium is the level of surveillance the citizens are under. They are watched almost everywhere, through cameras and the ever-present Sentinels. And if they are caught doing something against the Code (their law)? The city tries them publicly in the arena. Which is just brutal. 

Outside the city, the lands are wild. This is where the Celts live. I loved this juxtaposition of future and past. We don’t get to see much of the Celts and their magic in this first book, but I have a feeling they’ll feature heavily in the next two books in the series. 

I loved O’Connor’s writing. She hit the balance between simple language and beautiful descriptions in just the right way. I felt like I could float away inside some of her language. The characters felt real, and their reactions all made sense. The world building is clearly extremely well-thought out. I definitely felt like there was a whole iceberg under the ocean we aren’t seeing. 

I have pre-ordered all three books in this series, and I’m especially excited because all three come out this year. Why the publishers made the decision to release the books this way, I don’t know, but I’m very glad they did. More publishers need to do the same. 

Highly, highly recommend for any fans of YA fantasy. 

This is the best book I’ve read in quite a while.
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I'm a bit torn. I might have expected something different and I don't know why. Is there magic? yes. Is there a dystopian world? Yes. Is there romance? Hell yes. But still I wasn't sattisfied after finishing the book. Maybe this, even though unwilling, Cass's change of heart  made me feel cringy and angry more often than I wanted. Or maybe I'm not actually into dystopian stories as much as I thought I was.
Well, I'm not gonna decide right here and now. It was an interesting story and weirdly enough I might read the sequel. :)
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I thank the publisher and Netgalley for the free copy of the book. All opinions are my own.

The story is set in Londinium, in a version of the future in which the Roman Empire never fell. It follows Cassandra, an upstanding citizen of the city, who’s got her whole life mapped out for her. Until destiny throws an outsider at her feet. The story is a blend of technology and magic. While the people of Londinium thrive thanks to the so-called Code and technology, outsiders are known to possess magic. Two cultures, two societies, always at odds, balancing on a very fragile peace treaty. Of course, things go wrong. 

Secrets of the Starcrossed was a 3/5 star-read for me. Besides the dubious consent, towards the end, it felt repetitive and predictable. The characters weren’t that memorable, and I can’t say I noticed significant character development over the course of the story. On the bright side, the worldbuilding is quite interesting and engaging. In the end, I have quite the mixed feelings about Secrets of the Starcrossed.
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An all new fantasy YA trilogy, Secrets of the Starcrossed is a story set in a world in which the Roman Empire has managed to retain a stronghold in Britain, creating the walled city of Londinium and an uneasy peace with the British kingdoms around it. The city has made great advances in technology and science and citizens live strongly by the code and rules in place. Cassandra is the daughter of a wealthy merchant and she is due to marry Marcus Courtenay, but when she helps her classmate avoid trouble for carrying a piece of illegal tech, she discovers there might be more to her past than she originally knew and she might be the lost girl he is searching for.

I really wanted to love this book, I thought the premise was a really intriguing one – what if the Romans had stayed in Britain? I loved the idea of a girl with magic in her blood that had to fight to survive in a city where magic is forbidden but unfortunately this book just didn’t click with me. I wanted to know more about the magic in the world and how it worked and less about the history of the Roman Empire. The story was quite quick paced but I felt at times things were glossed over when they shouldn’t have been and then too much focus was placed on things I was less interested in.

Our main character Cassandra is the spoiled daughter of a wealthy merchant and I found her really difficult to like. She spends most her time shopping and complaining about the love interest in the story. For this reason I really struggled to root for her as a character. The story is also much more romance focused than I would have like and I found the on again off again relationship a bit grating.

I think the premise of this one is a really clever idea and I would be interested to see where O’Connor takes the story but ultimately this book just wasn’t for me. If you love YA fantasy romance stories this could be just the book for you and I’m sure fans of fast paced romance will absolutely devour this one.
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I found this book quite unusual. I enjoyed it in a way, but there were some elements that were a little lacking for me.
The premise of this book is that the Roman Empire never fell and that they are in the last stronghold on the Romans left in Britannia. They are surrounded by ancient kingdoms that hold the old ways and have magic in their blood. It was nice to see references to Wales, I always enjoy seeing my country in a book. Londinium is a city full of new technology and the ‘code’ which is law, while outside the Britons hold their power through magic.
We follow Cassandra who is an elite citizen in her 20’s and preparing to graduate from the forum, until she stumbles across some new technology from a classmate. I found Cassandra’s character a little weak and naive at times. She felt like more of a teenager than a woman and I felt this could have been improved upon if she developed her strength. Her classmate, Devyn, is the one responsible for the forbidden tech and we see her develop a relationship with him. I found this quite difficult as there was a lot of frustration and questions that Cassandra was trying to figure out, however the answers were fairly obvious to the reader. There is also a strange illness affecting the citizens, Cassandra’s betrothed Marcus is trying to figure out. I think this was supposed to be a love triangle, however this felt a bit unusual to me and a little forced. There was plenty of action and suspense which I did find interesting. This book had a lot of potential, I would have liked to see more of the magic system and lore explained. I definitely enjoyed elements of this book, I would also be tempted to read the second one, however it wasn’t my usual style. I’m sure many people would enjoy this and I look forward to seeing how the author progresses in the future.
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3.5* rounded up. 

I liked this book. The story has a lot of wonderful pieces and characters and I definitely want to know more. 

The world building is very good, but a bit lacking. There’s all this talk about the Code but very little about what the rules are and why we should care. It’s pretty clear from the beginning that the ruling Romans (but are they? I’ll get back to that) are the villains. I had difficulty knowing what the heroine ought to be feeling about her behaviour because there was no loyalty build up. We are told she’s loyal and perfect on page one, but she immediately breaks what seems like a pretty big rule for a person she barely knows. That’s not even a spoiler. That’s the first chapter. Also, insta-love. Not my favourite. I may have rolled my eyes a bit. 

And before the first chapter is a prologue that still doesn’t seem to belong. I’m not really sure what to do with it. 

The characters are pretty good though. I hope they get better in the second book. Devyn is my favourite. My one complaint is they seem a little two dimensional. They lack depth that I hope will be sorted in the second and third books. 

And the ruling class. They’ve got Romanesque titles but I still don’t really understand what and who is from where. The disgust that comes from “citizens” to outside, native peoples is very clear, except there’s intermarrying even in the past of the elites. Who’s actually in charge? Where did they come from and what’s with the connection to the Romans? It’s interesting I just wish it had a bit more background. There was a lot about hair colour but otherwise not much. I wanted to know more than just a brief (and confusing) alternate history of the wars. 

My last complaint is that I still have little to no idea what the motivation of the villains really is. I’d really like more information on that. I assume it has something to do with subjugation of the natives but it’s ... vague.

So, I still have this 3.5* because this is a genuinely interesting story and I read it quickly because I wanted to know what happens! I still want to know. There was a disappointing lack of reveal in this book. I liked how this was paced and I think it was very nicely plotted. I’m keeping my eye on book two!
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I was really looking forward to reading this after reading the synopsis and im thankful to netgalley for allowing me early access however this book could have been so much more than what it was, i just felt like what the plot was and how it was written were on two different levels. The writing wasn't bad at all, i mean i finished this book in a couple of sittings however it just felt too easy on how the story played out and as a reader i knew how it was going to go. i am going to read the next book in the series as i want to know what is next for Cassandra after the way this first book ended. i just hope there are some surprises along the way that will keep me on my toes.
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The concept of this book was really original, unique, and clearly well-thought out and researched. It’s definitely has all the right vibes of a dystopian novel but for me, the plot was slightly anticlimactic. Though the pacing was breakneck - we literally jumped right into the meat of things page 1 - I felt like I was struggling to capture the nature of this world while also keeping up with the characters. It’s pretty accurate though that fans of Divergent and The Hunger Games will really like this book, especially if you  still actively reach for those kinds of books. Huge kudos to the author because this world is super unique and a great imagining!
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This is the first book in a new trilogy, The Once and Future Queen series. I really enjoyed this one. It started off a little slow but picked up quickly to the point where I couldn't put it down. And that ending! Whew, I wish the sequel was already out!

This book has an interesting concept. What would have happened if the Roman empire never fell? It seems to be set in what we know as London but Great Britain was never formed and the Romans are secured in an ultra-technology based city.  To make this a fantasy book, the old Britons and anyone with Briton blood can do magic. I was intrigued. 

The story focuses on an 18 year old named Cassandra that is considered an elite in the Roman City she lives in. She's lives by a "code" and codebreakers have to go to through an awfully similar experience to the justice of gladiator times, complete with the thumbs up or down to determine their fate. Cassandra, or "Cass", is set to marry the most eligible bachelor because of the match system that is used.  However, she encounters a codebreaker and everything gets turned upside down.

There were some things about the main character that bugged me to include the whole damsel in distress thing but ultimately I wanted to keep reading. As I mentioned, the book ended on a big cliff-hanger so I just have to know what happens!

Overall rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a free ARC.
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I really enjoyed Secrets of the Starcrossed. I was somewhat confused near the beginning about just what age range our protagonists were supposed to be but once it became apparent they were in their early 20s I felt more comfortable working their story. 
The story between Cass and Devyn swings wildly from hot and heavy to non-existent and I think this shows just how conditioned these people are by the societal demands of the worlds they inhabit. For Cass growing up under The Code has taught her a different right than Devyn who was beholden to a whole other set of rules and codes to live by. I think there was a great chemistry between them and I rooted for them 100%. 

I always judge a debit book in a series on whether I want to read more or if I can literally close the book on that particular world and move on, in the case of Secrets of the Starcrossed I am desperate for the second book...that ending!
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This book was a slow burn that when finally ignited went out quickly with an abrupt unfinished ending. While I understand this is the first of a trilogy it's still not cool to play with my emotions like that! 

The idea of a future where Rome never fell is an interesting one. The old notion of being a Roman citizen plays out in a decadent landscape of glass where the lives of its inhabitants are transparent and the Code is respected above all.

Cassandra is a model citizen who lives charmed life as an elite and will soon be married to the most eligible bachelor, to whom she has been matched since age 12. She has everything so could ever dream of. But one small blip in her normally flawless judgement sends her perfectly planned life into a tailspin when she becomes involved with Devyon and get a peak behind the curtain of what is real.

I really enjoyed the idea of this book and the love story it paints. However the first half is very slow and the helpless female character who needs a man to realize her potential is a trope I could do without.

All that said, I still want to know what happens and will invest in the second book when it comes out. Things were finally getting good!
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When I first heard about the book, I was very enthusiastic and thought it had great potential. The concept of the book itself (celt uchronia mixed with a dash of magic and a lot of mystery) is indeed very promising. 

In terms of background, I found this mix of past history, technology and supernatural quite nice. At first the world building was really intriguing and interesting. But that didn't last. Those good ideas were unfortunately poorly exploited. In fact, it goes in all directions, without really any structure or explanation. While I remain convinced that the author had a built a very complex universe in her mind, I don’t think she did a good enough job at explaining it. 

The same can be said of the plot, which mixes a lot of elements, too many elements: prophecy, strange illness, discovery of magic, class struggle, political machinations, insta-love, love triangle... For me, it felt like O’Connor was trying to recycle too many classical YA Fantasy plot points at the same time. I really struggled to get through the first part of the book, which pacing was also really slow, which didn’t help.

It’s only halfway through that I found my cruising speed: the pace finally changes, adventures follow one another and the plot develops elements that piqued my interest. Well, it helps that the author doesn't explain anything... the mystery remains. But as a result, now I want to continue the adventure to know what this is all about.
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Thanks NetGalley, Author Clara O'Connor, and One More Chapter for providing an E-arc of this book in exchange for an honest review! All thoughts and opinions are my own. 
2.75 stars
This book had a great premise of a world that was created in an alternate world based on real historical events/people. The world building/society was a little confusing due to that fact some of the events that took placed were either added or removed or not fully explained. I was unsure why some of the kingdoms were mentioned  as well as the rules that governed this world. The characters were not really well developed and kind of typical of YA fantasy. The romantic relationships were not likeable! The couples were not believable in their feelings for each other.  First, the relationship between Cass and Devyn was insta-lovely and somewhat problematic during one scene that had questionable consent! Then, the relationship between Cass and Marcus had no real chemistry except for that was created by devices given to them during the hand-fasting. The story moved along pretty quickly despite the lack of any major plot. I really wanted to like this book more. The premise, of the story and the world building was what drew me to this book in the first place.  I feel this first book was written to set up for the next book in the series to give the characters and plot more room to grow. I will look forward to reading the next installment in this series just to see where the author has decided to take this story.
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I feel like this book was a bit of a mixed bag. I was interested, and I didn't ever just stop reading this book, but I also kept going back to the synopsis trying to see what it was that I was looking forward to.  That Panem callout in the synopsis kept me going. It did feel a little like Panem from the controlling aspect, but I don't think that's enough of a connection to use that city.

The world is like ours, but with changes to history. I was really confused in the beginning. They reference historical British royalty family bloodlines, but their histories are changed, so just know going in that any history you know won't match with this version.

I didn't really enjoy the romance between Dev and Cass. It felt fast and forced. I did like her fiance, LOL, which I can't decide if I was supposed to or not.

Things I did like:
- Dystopian atmosphere with a controlling government.
- Cass's inner thoughts. I enjoyed her toiling with the need to be the perfect citizen.
- The narrator did a great job with this book. I think she had a compelling voice that pulled me into the story!

Overall, I think there are a lot of readers that will really love the YA fantasy, magical aspect of this book. I think it just felt rough around the edges and could have been further developed to really be an outstanding story.

I was provided a gifted copy of this book for free. I am leaving my review voluntarily.
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As alternate histories go, this book was unlike any others I’ve read or heard of. O’Conner does a great job at building a believable world that could have been if things had gone differently with the Roman Empire in England while including a magic system that makes sense and even has consequences. 

Admittedly it took a bit for me to get into the book. I had a hard time following what exactly was going on, especially when it came to the connection between Devyn and Cassandra. Things felt a bit jumbled at times, but I still felt I needed to know what was going to happen next, especially towards the end. 

I’m glad that I won’t have to wait long for the next book in the series because I definitely need to know what happens to our heroine and her companions.
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As someone who is a huge fan of the hunger games, I was very excited for this book as it had an interesting take on fantasy that I had not seen before. I was especially excited for the historical Roman aspect and was excited to see how that would play into this fantasy novel. However, I was disappointed. I normally don’t mind when books throw the reader into the middle of the plot without explanation, however with this book, it was like the explanation never came. I was a quarter of the way through the book, and all I felt was confusion, and all I could think was what is the point of the book? What is Cassandra’s goal? What is the conflict? Also, instead of introducing and explaining the world, the author introduced the idea of an untrustworthy government before the book was even halfway over. Cassandra is honestly a weak character, and I wish there had been some more information and some more buildup before certain things were revealed. 

I am not a fan of the insta-love trope and so when that was introduced, I was turned off by the book even more, but I kept reading in hopes that something would grab me, but that never really happened. Cassandra had absolutely no desire to lead her own life, and a weak female protagonist is something that I simply cannot stand. This book has interesting aspects, but overall, it could have been done so much better.
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I have mixed feelings about this book. I really enjoyed the beginning of the book - I thought the world was really exciting and an interesting concept - what if the Romans had continued their rule? I loved the idea that everyone in this city has a vote in public hearings for crimes and was interested to see more of how the Roman rule would impact the future. However, I did feel like the story dragged a bit in the middle it was a little long-winded and I felt like it was easy enough to put down when I reached the end of a chapter. However once again the last quarter of the book piqued my interest as things started taking turns and the cliffhanger ending had me interested and wanting to pick up the sequel soon. I am hoping that the sequel brings some more world-building because that is what I missed the most from this book but I am excited to see where the events of this book take the characters later on in the series.
3 out of 5 stars.
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REVIEW: 'Secrets of the Starcrossed' by Clara O'Connor almost had me

I really wanted to like Secrets of the Starcrossed after seeing excitement about it online. It took me a while to properly make up my mind about it, though.

The blurb says it all really: a Roman empire, Celtic influences, and people with magic in their blood? Secrets of the Starcrossed sounds like the perfect book for me...in theory. Unfortunately, I felt some of the writing choices let what promised to be an exciting story down.

Our main character, Cassandra, isn't overly likeable at first. She seems lacking in agency and, disappointingly, this doesn't change. One of the main tropes present in this book is insta-love -- so if you don't like that, chances are you won't get along with this story. The insta-love between Cassandra and Devyn didn't grab me, and only served to harden my opinion that Cassandra has no agency. Either she is unable to resist Devyn, and therefore goes along with whatever he thinks (or is irresistibly drawn by him so that she can't do anything but wonder about him), or she is trapped -- in more ways than one -- by the Code and her rigorous upbringing. 

This idea of being trapped by the Code is explored in less-than-pleasant ways, highlighting the awfulness of the rule Londinium lives under. While I'm all for a corrupt government, there was one element that really didn't sit right with me. 

At one point, there is an intimate scene between two of the characters, and there is no legitimate consent given -- by either party. It is clearly expressed that one character is drugged (despite claiming she is in a lucid state of mind), and the other clearly says "no" multiple times, before apparently changing his mind. I understood that the author was trying to demonstrate the twisted workings of the ruling class through the use of "bridal tea", yet the was this scene of questionable (read: no explicit, legitimate) consent was unnecessary. Especially because it was played off as being okay, and I would like to highlight here, especially to younger readers, that this is not okay. 
If this questionable scene wasn't enough to dissuade me from the qualities of Secrets of the Starcrossed, by the time I got to the end I realised that...nothing really happens. The same plot point is used three times to build a story, and by the end there is no particular advancement. Yes, we learn bits about the characters and the world. But in all honestly, the book could have been half its length and I would not have felt a loss. 

As for the worldbuilding, there is an attempt at bringing in lots of different elements, which sounded amazing. Yet it was done in such a way as to alienate the reader. For those not versed in medieval British history (honestly, even though I am from the UK, the fact I study this period at university was a big help), you might struggle. Clara O'Connor has attempted to weave together Roman Britain, Anglo-Saxon England, and Celtic history together, but sadly missed the mark.

Overall, the more I think about this book, the more disappointed I am. I doubt I will be reading the rest of the series!

If, unlike me, this book hooked you, great! You will be pleased to know that the final two books in this trilogy will be published later this year, in March and June 2021.
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