Secrets of the Starcrossed is book #1 in the Once and Future Queen trilogy by author Clara O’Connor. Is it good? Depends on your definition. My Secrets of the Starcrossed review will go over the plot and characters. I will be pointing out some weak points (weak in my opinion). If you have high expectations of this book, tamper those down. As always, since this is a free ARC copy received through Netgalley, I must emphasize all opinions are my own. I thank Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review the book.
I got the book on December 1st of last year and finished it on January 1st, 2021. Now, you may think it was hard to get into it and that it’s not a page-turner, but this isn’t exactly the case. I had a more significant problem with the pacing than expected. But I also had (still have) health issues that prevent me from focusing enough. But let’s cut the fillers short and dive further! The most serious trigger warning I discovered while reading was dubious consent.
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Secrets of the Starcrossed: The Plot
The story is set in Londinium, in a version of the future where the Roman Empire never fell. Londinium is an isolated piece of the Empire surrounded by the savage Britons. The book offers a blend of magic and technology. While the citizens of Londinium prosper thanks to the so-called Code and their advanced tech, those outside the walls rely on magic. We have two cultures, two societies at odds, balancing on a very fragile peace treaty.
The story follows Cassandra, an upstanding citizen of the Empire. Her whole life is mapped out for her. The Code has matched her to the most eligible bachelor in Londinium. She’s supposed to get married, have kids, and spend money for the rest of the days. Until destiny throws an outsider at her feet. Devyn is here to make everything ten times more difficult.
When Cassandra catches him smuggling a piece of illegal tech, she steals it in order to help him with the sentinels of the city. When they come to arrest him, it’s thanks to her they don’t find the tech on Devyn. Despite her better judgment, Cassandra decides to pursue the mystery of this boy she never noticed before but always knew he’s somewhere out there, in the periphery of awareness. And that reckless decision to pursue turns her whole life upside-down.
Secrets of the Starcrossed: The Characters
Cassandra and Devyn are the central figures of the story. Cassandra’s match – Marcus, comes off as an underdeveloped secondary character who served a lot of plot purposes. Honestly, the only one I liked, was Devyn. He was given a purpose in the story. Cassandra is a spoiled girl who was more interested in ‘Why doesn’t Devyn want me?’ rather than considering the truths of their society.
She’s supposed to come off as strong and willful, someone who grows a spine over the course of the book. But it didn’t hit home with me. Till the very end, she feels like a pouty little princess. A bit annoying. Really, I can’t share something quite memorable and admirable about the characters that stuck with me after the last pages.
Worldbuilding & Trigger Warnings
Probably the most interesting part of the Secrets of the Starcrossed was the world Clara O’Conner created. The citizens of Londinium have the advantage of using high-tech. They live in a Big Brother sort of world and serve public justice, with chosen citizens having the right to cast a vote. Justice is swift and severe, whether public lashing or cutting off the hand of someone. They consider those with magic to be savage, living in the maintained utopia of their own high tower. Part of the problem with the pacing comes from the fact that at first, the worldbuilding is steady and engaging. Then the story picks up speed and everything is one info dump after the other. But it’s a world worth discovering, so I’ll leave you to do this on your own.
As for the trigger warnings. As I said, there’s dubious consent when it comes to intimacy between the two main characters. He’s ‘no’, but then he’s ‘yes’, and she’s drugged, but then she isn’t ‘really’. It can be quite disturbing. Not to mention we have the bonding trope used once more. But in this case, the two bonded are forced to be into each other. All for the purposes of the Code that matched them.
Because of that, there was quite a lot of back and forth. There are three instances when our characters try to work against the Code and Londinium’s authorities, and a pattern. They almost succeed, and then fail. I know that’s made to build pressure, but I could’ve survived without so many trial-and-error events. Not to mention that they were somehow able to counter the compulsion of the bond, without proper explanation. It’s safe to say, the magic system imploded at some point.
For me, Clara O’Connor’s book was a 3/5 star-read. 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. But if you like how it sounds, you can look forward to its release – January 21st.