Curse of the Celts by Clara O’Connor is the sequel in the Once and Future Queen trilogy. Continuing where we left off in Secrets of the Starcrossed, Curse of the Celts shows Cassandra on her way to her homeland.
You are accused of crimes against the Code. How do you plead?
After failing to escape the Roman metropolis of Londinium with Devyn, her lover, and Marcus, her betrothed, Cassandra wakes in inky darkness to find the ground giving way to sand beneath her feet.
All three of them have been carted back to the notorious arena at the heart of the city to stand trial by public vote. Cass knows they must escape at any cost: to warn the Celts of the mysterious blood curse ravaging their kin, to foil the schemes of the imperial council…
To find the fabled Lady of the Lake, the one who could save them all.
But even as the jaws of death close in around her, another threat looms in the shadows, a danger she never could have foreseen, a betrayal that could burn down her entire world.
TW: Non-consensual sex that is very much pretended to be consensual and fine. No, really. Mostly in the first book, but I have some issues in the second book with this as well.
This book made me really think about this specific tweet, and I think we should all look at this tweet before continuing to read my review:
This review will be a little bit of reviewing both books in the series, as they both need to be addressed.
I want to begin my review by addressing some of the parts of this world that don’t add up to me. Disclaimer: I am by no means a history buff, and so I checked with some people to confirm this information. These books are set in a world in which Rome has never fallen. In the first book, it is clear we are very technologically advanced; however, they discuss defeating the Britons and keeping them out of the city. However, they also reference Celtic magic and Arthurian lore. I recognize that fantasy requires a level of reality displacement- but this was too far. Even for me, someone who doesn’t really understand history. I know enough of it to know that the likelihood of Rome not falling and King Artur existing is slim. Additionally, they reference Greek deities instead of Roman deities, which seemed odd to me.
My last semi-nitpicky thing is that in our first book, we go from a very sci-fi technologically advanced city. Once Cassandra, Marcus, and Devyn escape, however, everything is set back in a medieval time- down to the language. While O’Connor attempts to make up for this, stating that the technology simply doesn’t work outside of the city walls- that doesn’t account for the language being so different.
On to, critiquing the characters and their actions of this book. Cassandra is 22, but she does not read as 22. She reads to be 16 at most times, and sometimes 14 at others. Even after her escape from the prisons in Londinium, she still throws tantrums like a child. Quite literally stamping her feet when she doesn’t get her way, which, if I ever saw a 22-year-old do that I’m not sure I would know what to do. Devyn is angry and moody, and rarely ever has anything likable about himself. He posed as a 12-year-old when he was 16, so I would imagine that I would be grumpy in those circumstances too. If you’re wondering, yes, it is weird that Cassandra and Devyn’s age difference is 4 years- not when they’re in their 20’s, but since he’s been following her around since she was 12. It’s weird.
Marcus was the only likable character of the trio, and O’Connor decided that was not acceptable, either.
My issue with this book, however, is not directly with any of these things. It’s the way O’Connor chose to write about consent and women. In the first book, Cassandra is given bridal tea. This is a drug. She is drugged to feel more sexually aroused to feel more inclined towards her betrothed (Marcus). This is the first time she and Devyn become physically intimate, and they both are aware she is drugged. Despite Devyn playing chivalrous every other moment, he does not when she is drugged. In the first 25% or so of this sequel, Devyn is then drugged with the same tea. The same thing occurs, and no one acts like this is a particularly terrible thing for either of them to have participated in. I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t want my partner to have relations with me when we both know I’m under a drug I did not consent to take.
Cassandra is used as a pawn for marriage, repeatedly.
No matter who ends up with her, they are trying to marry her off to someone for power. This book is set in the future of some kind, and honestly, this trope is tired. The handfasting cuffs that Marcus and Cassandra both have cause them to feel aroused when one or the other is experiencing it. Marcus does this to intentionally cause Cassandra to feel out of control around Devyn. While this is not marked as okay, Cassandra forgives Marcus because he didn’t ask to be put in this situation. I mean, neither did Cassandra, but fuck it when it comes to her ability to consent, I guess.
This next bit is going to spoil the ending, but I want to further explore how terrible of a job O’Connor does of addressing consent, sex, and women. Especially because this is supposed to be a YA.
Marcus betrays them all. He sails away and is unaffected by the handfasting cuff. Devyn is murdered. Cassandra is pregnant with Devyn’s child. Knowing that all Cassandra must do is marry someone to get the cuff off, she marries Gideon. She has hated Gideon almost the entire book. However, once the vows are completed, the cuff does not come off. She is going to die in pain- unless she consummates the marriage. Cassandra must sleep with someone she does not like, minutes after her beloved dies and her friend betrays her. Or else she dies. Because this is what we have reduced our female main character to – a pawn. Cassandra is supposed to be from one of the most powerful magical lines in all of history. She has shown her ability to be strong and powerful with her magic. Instead of using that to write Cassandra out of her predicament, she is put in a place where she either dies or she has sex that she does not consent to. That’s it. That’s your big fucking twist at the end of the book.
I do not recommend this book for anyone. I absolutely do not recommend it for teenagers. This mentality can become downright dangerous for teenagers to read about, and the relationships are not healthy. Not a single relationship is healthy, and there is not one time that it is addressed.
This is not okay.
Thank you (I guess) to Netgalley for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.