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Hilary T. Smith
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Aurelia - Anne Osterlund I don’t feel great about giving this book two stars. To me, two stars seems paltry and possibly indicative of poor writing, plotting and characterisation – and that’s not actually true in the case of Aurelia. But the Goodreads star system defines two stars as “It was okay”, and to be honest, that’s the most fitting of the ratings for my personal reading experience of this book. To be clear, this is not a badly written or subpar book. In some respects it’s quite the opposite. But for me, this book felt rather “paint-by-numbers”, where the finished product looked just as it should, neat and tidy, and yet somehow a bit soulless. There are so many promising elements here: a clearly realised world, a strong and intelligent princess, a court intrigue, a varied cast of characters. And yet at no stage did I feel invested in this story, or attached to the characters, or compelled by the conflict. I can’t help but think that this novel would work better as a middle-grade read. Or perhaps I’m simply beyond the age where I find this type of story “my thing”. There was definitely enough substance here to create a more emotive, dynamic story, but sadly it felt a little formulaic. None of the reveals came as surprises to me – I had the villains pegged early in the story by virtue of their transparent motivations – and some of the characters unfortunately fell into clichés. Evil stepmother, anyone? Creepy, elderly, royal suitors? Spendthrift, shallow sister?The highlights are definitely the characters of Aurelia and Robert, who are intelligent and self-determined individuals, and the hint of romance in the story is well handled and slowly developed, not overshadowing the mystery elements of the plot. I will read the sequel to see where the story goes – and I’m holding out hope that I’ll feel more connected to it than I did to Aurelia