Book Review: Secrets of the Starcrossed (The Once and Future Queen, #1) by Clara O’Connor

  • Title: Secrets of the Starcrossed
  • Series: The Once and Future Queen, #1
  • Author: Clara O’Connor
  • Genre: YA Fantasy
  • Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Would I recommend: Maybe? I’ll read on in the series, and if you want to get the whole story, it’s best to start at the beginning.

From Goodreads:

In a world where the Roman Empire never fell, two starcrossed lovers fight to ignite the spark of rebellion…

Londinium, the last stronghold of the Romans left in Britannia, remains in a delicate state of peace with the ancient kingdoms that surround it. As the only daughter of a powerful merchant, Cassandra is betrothed to Marcus, the most eligible bachelor in the city.

But then she meets Devyn, the boy with the strange midnight eyes searching for a girl with magic in her blood.

A boy who will make her believe in soulmates…

When a mysterious sickness starts to leech the life from citizens with Celtic power lying dormant in their veins, the imperial council sets their schemes in motion. And so Cassandra must make a choice: the Code or Chaos, science or sorcery, Marcus or Devyn?

Panem meets the Grishaverse in this explosive new YA trilogy perfect for readers of Marie Lu, Bella Forrest, and Cassandra Clare. 

My review:

I really wanted to like this book. The premise is intriguing – an alternate history where the Roman Empire never fell, but survived to present day and beyond. An empire holding back the unruly Britons and their magical powers by means of some incredible technology. But it didn’t hit on all cylinders for me.

First, Cassandra is supposedly a young adult – she celebrates her 21st birthday in the book. But she often comes across as a whiny, immature teen who wants her way no matter the consequence.

Second, the insta-romance with Devyn. He comes to her notice in class one day, and suddenly, BAM! He’s all she can think about. Never mind that she’s already promised to Marcus. Once she acknowledges Devyn, that’s it.

Third, the Empire apparently has no qualms about using mind-altering drugs to “persuade” its citizens to do what’s right. The bridal tea that Cassandra drinks, the cuffs put on the “happy” couple at handfasting – talk about the illusion of free will. And really, you would expect an empire to use some form of manipulation to keep their grip on power. But how, then, does the older generation learn about and buy into this kind of control if everyone is so happy to be a citizen of the Empire? Is there some point at which they’re initiated into the secret society of Those Who Know so that they can “guide” their children in the right direction? Or is it just Cassandra and Marcus’s parents who are in the know, because the Empire wants an as-yet-unspecified something from their children?

Fourth, THE ENDING. Sweet mother of pearl, that ending. The story started kind of slow, and it kind of grated on me in some ways, but I did get sucked in about halfway through. I really wanted to know what happened. All this build-up to who Cassandra may be, what Devyn might be to her, can she break free from the life that’s been planned for her by others, and…WHAM. That. Ending. If I’d been reading a hard copy, I might have thrown the book across the room. I get that the author wants to leave the reader wanting more, but this seems to take that idea to extremes.

I think Ms. O’Connor has great potential. I’ll read the second book in the trilogy if for no other reason than to find out what happens next. I’d love to see a little more maturity from Cassandra, a little more attention to historical detail (if this is the Roman Empire, they aren’t going to talk about Hades – he was Greek, y’all), and more than just a titular nod to the Arthurian legend that comes to mind when I hear “the once and future queen.” That would elevate her work considerably in my opinion.

Thanks to NetGalley and One Chapter More for an advance review copy. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.

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