REVIEW: Aurelia by Anne Osterlund
Dear Ms. Osterlund,
When I received this book from Jane, I was excited. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book solely about a princess and I admit I had a soft spot for them when I was younger. And not only did Aurelia feature a crown princess, it also had the spymaster’s son who loves her and an assassination plot. So many elements I love in one book. How could it possibly go wrong?
Aurelia is heir to the throne of a kingdom currently ruled by a king who’s driving it to bankruptcy in order to please his second wife, Aurelia’s stepmother. Needless to say, while the common people love Aurelia, they have little respect for her father. But it appears someone doesn’t share the citizens’ affection for the crown princess. Unbeknownst to Aurelia, someone has been trying to kill her. They’ve succeeded in foiling the assassination attempts so far but how long can that last? So the king asks his spymaster to come out of retirement to find the assassin and the person who hired him. Unfortunately, his former spymaster refuses. Instead the spymaster’s son, Robert, comes to the capital.
In theory, this storyline should have fascinated me. It promised me twists and turns through political and courtly intrigue to ferret out Aurelia’s would-be assassin. I love this type of plot in adult fantasy so I was excited to see how it would be executed in a young adult fantasy. Sad to say, not only were there not enough twists and turns to keep me on my toes, Aurelia turned out to be that well-known heroine type called “feisty.”
Now I don’t mind feisty and sassy characters in YA fiction, provided they have something to back it up. But when a crown princess walks into the public marketplace to do her own shopping, accompanied by a single maid (that, of course, is also a close friend) and a token number of guards? My suspension of disbelief is a little stretched. And when that same princess comes upon a mob about to tear apart her father’s statue and actually walks into the center of the riot to ask them what’s wrong? Any credibility about Aurelia’s common sense flew out the window. I have a hard time believing that royalty and commoners can interact on casual terms but I can let it go if the writing’s good enough. But an angry mob on the verge of violence? And neither the maid nor guards try to stop her? I don’t think so.
I’ve also said in the past that I love storylines that involve friends becoming more. Aurelia and Robert should have been that. They grew up together and shared many of the same classes when Robert still lived in the capital. But their relationship struck me as so one-sided it utterly failed to work for me. This was especially disappointing given how many opportunities for flirting and interactions the book offered — like the the midnight carnivale and the numerous court scenes. Instead, Aurelia came off as so prickly and standoffish — and not in a sympathetic and charming way — that I felt sorry that poor Robert fell for such a disagreeable girl.
Ultimately, what ruined the book for me was the ending. I’d figured out one piece of the puzzle but the rest of it seemed to have come out of nowhere and with so little development that I honestly was confused. Not about the resolution but about whether or not the ending was even part of the same book! I felt like I’d missed a crucial part of Aurelia’s character growth and I even went back to check if I’d somehow skipped any chapters.
If we’d been given more hints about the true culprit behind Aurelia’s assassination plot and the reason why the assassin would ultimately never be brought to justice, I could have accepted the ending. Sadly, I didn’t feel that way and overall, this turned out to be a disappointing read. C-