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Book Review: Cecilia by Sandra L. Rostirolla

How was the writing? The writing was good. It had no major issues with editing. However, I’m not sure I would place it in the young adult genre. While the protagonist is a teen (eighteen), the male romantic character doesn’t seem like a teen. Many of the other characters are not, and there is a sex scene between Cecilia and the male character, albeit brief and not very descriptive.  I enjoyed the novel, but it felt rushed toward the end. In fact, with the amount of detail in the beginning and middle, I didn’t expect the characters to actually reach the pinnacle battle scene. Another issue I had was the number of characters introduced toward that battle scene. I lost track of who was who. I had to “search” character names to try to remember who that character was and when I had been introduced to that character. It became a little overwhelming. Had the novel ended before the big battle, I would have given it a higher rating and considered purchasing the next novel in the series. 

Content and happy in Plockton, a village nestled deep within the forest, eighteen-year-old Cecilia never realized there was a bigger world. After the Great War, Cecilia’s great ancestor led a small group of followers far away from the destruction left behind, and for many years, they lived underground away from the poisonous air until it was safe to begin life above ground again. Now, generations later, Cecilia lives an idyllic life with her mother and two older brothers, but her entire world is destroyed when a group of dark riders decimate her village, killing every female and old person and taking prisoner all of the males old enough to join their ranks or serve as slaves for Vitus, a city Cecilia never knew existed. After narrowly escaping the riders, Cecilia is visited by Siersha, the Goddess of Light, who fills Cecilia with the drive to save her brothers though she knows nothing of the world beyond her forest. Not long into her journey, Cecilia is attacked by Amalardh, a professional killer sent to find the lone survivor of the village massacre, but when Cecilia saves Amalardh from a horrible accident, he can’t bring himself to kill the beautiful, innocent girl, and he agrees to take her to Vitus to find her brothers. However, as the two become closer, it is clear Siersha has a purpose for both of them, an ancient prophecy that must be fulfilled by the Flower Princess and the Wolf. As Eifa, the Dark Shadow, moves across the land, Cecilia and Amalardh know they must defeat the darkness before it completely destroys the small shred of human goodness left in the world, but with an army of dark riders and the sadistic rulers of Vitus, the two will face a greater evil than they know.

A major theme of the novel is resilience. Cecilia is an untested, completely innocent girl with no knowledge of evil. In fact, her greatest “sin” is her refusal to kiss Leighton, a boy with a serious crush on his former friend. She has lived with stories of her heroic father, who died not long after Cecilia was born on a quest to bring his baby girl a special gift for her Hinge Ceremony. Her brothers, Eideard and Rabbie, have protected her, her entire life, and her biggest worry is whether to forgive Leighton and allow him to dance with her. She respects the connection between all living things and is loved by the village girls who eagerly listen to her stories about the Flower Princess and the Wolf while she braids their hair. To Cecilia, the stories of the brave, warrior princess are just beloved fairy tales until her initial visit from Siersha. At first, she resists Siersha’s urging to take the challenge of returning light to the world of men. However, when she sees the bodies of her mother and the villagers she has lived with her entire life, she knows she cannot hide. That is when her resilience truly begins. After burying all of the dead villagers, Cecilia begins a journey she couldn’t have fathomed before the killings. Many times, she questions her ability to accomplish such an enormous task, but each time, she digs deeply within herself to find the strength to go on. Even when confronted by Amalardh, the Dark Shadow of the Senators of Vitus, Cecilia refuses to give in to the darkness, and when she begins to see the connection between herself, Amalardh, and the fairy tale she loves, she believes in her purpose. Through her resilience, she convinces Amalardh as well. Each group Cecilia meets questions her belief, but she never gives up and eventually convinces near strangers to believe also, and she becomes that warrior princess she has loved. Without her resilience, her incredible journey, both literal and metaphorical, could never have happened. 

The love story between Amalardh and Cecilia is another wonderful facet of this novel. Cecilia decided long ago never to love a man. For her entire life, she saw the pain and loss felt by her mother since her father’s death, and Cecilia never wants that pain, but Amalardh’s story goes much deeper. Raised by the Senators for the sole purpose of killing, he has none of the softer emotions connected with love. After the death of his father, Amalardh was imprisoned and beaten for years then trained as an assassin by the head of the army of Vitus. He has never known kindness from another human, so when Cecilia, his next intended victim, saves his life, he cannot process his myriad emotions. The evolution of his feelings in this savage world was an interesting juxtaposition with Cecilia. 

Seeing the familiar world in this post-apocalyptic landscape will entrance both lovers of fantasy and dystopian. Cecilia is a promising beginning to an interesting series. 

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.