The Beholden by Cassandra Rose Clarke is the first book in a new fantasy series that is scheduled to be published on January 18, 2022. The cover of this book is beautiful and I was excited to dive into a new fantasy world but it didn’t work out.
Orphaned as young women, Celestia and Izara De Malena find themselves land rich but destitute, with only a failing rainforest acreage, Celestia’s perfect manners, and Izara’s nascent magic to their aristocratic names. With the last of their money running out, they enact a dangerous plan—using a spell she doesn’t fully understand, Izara summons the Lady of the Seraphine and demands a favor: a husband for Celestia, one rich enough to enable the De Malena sisters to keep their land. But a favor from the river goddess always comes at a cost . . .
Now, five years later, rumors of war and disease are spreading, Celestia’s husband has been called away on a secret mission for the Emperor, and the Lady of the Seraphine is back to collect her due. Izara will be forced to leave the academy where she has been studying to become a mage; Celestia will be pulled from her now-flourishing farm while newly pregnant with her first child. Together, they must repay their debt to the Lady—embarking on a mission that will put them on a collision course with Celestia’s husband, the Emperor, and a god even more powerful than the Lady of the Seraphine.
I sadly have very few good things to say about this book, I did not enjoy it. It was very long and felt even longer. I stuck with it until the end because it was an ARC but I’m glad I’m done. I don’t give out a lot of 1 star ratings and I almost went with 2 stars but I slept on it and it really is a 1 star for me.
The characters usually make or break a book for me and I really hated these characters. Celestia is incredibly annoying and just complains for the entire book, not offering to help or doing anything constructive. She starts off a spoiled housewife and has zero character growth to become anything beyond that. Her pregnancy is used and discussed ad nauseum although it added very little to the story. Izara had some potential but really was just the shell of a typical female fantasy main character with nothing unique and she even turned away from that and got weak and boring as the story went on. Ico is the most boring spineless pirate even written and every time he even showed a glimmer of personality, he disappeared for a few pages. I just didn’t like a single one.
Then there’s the world where these characters live which I do not understand, it is not explained at all. I don’t know what anything looks like, the author didn’t bother to tell me. They come across tons of statues and none of them are described. There seems to be a cold desert with sand. Other places are hot and there’s a river. A lot of reviews are talking about the jungle atmosphere but the word “jungle” is not used. There are mentions of mangos many times and once they use a vine to climb off a boat. Does that mean jungle? They call trees the forest a few times. I have no idea where this book took place. I’m not looking for purple prose but a simple discussion of what the general surrounding looked like would have been nice.
There is some magic in this world but the magic is not really explained or even used much, it’s just an undefined “magic” they speak of. There’s some kind of other plane of existence and trances and I don’t understand any of it or how it ties together. I don’t know what the academy does or Izara’s end goal of attending. Izara has magic but besides one instance (which is totally random and inconsistent but at least added some action), all she seems to be able to do is go into trances. The gods were an interesting idea and the whole growth versus decay bit had potential but it was buried among so much other nonsense that I had a hard time caring.
Lastly, the writing style didn’t work for me. Only 15 chapters in a 544 page book is ridiculous not only because really long chapters are annoying but the chapters are intended to break up parts of the story. This story only had 15 parts and it really felt like it, the plot was so slow. The chapters also changed point of view with no warning and many times I was unclear on who the narrator was, their “voices” were so similar that it was easy to miss when the narrative changed.
So, yes, it’s a 1 star for me.
*I received a free ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.