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In the Shadow of the Sun #2

Under a Starlit Sky

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EM Castellan's Under a Starlit Sky is the captivating sequel to the YA historical Fantasy novel, In the Shadow of the Sun

Will her magic be the end of her?

Spring 1662. In the wake of Fouquet’s defeat, Henriette is keeping her promise to the Sun King and helping him build the enchanted Palace of Versailles he’s always dreamed of. But when her poor health worsens, her magic wanes and her husband Philippe fears for her well being to such an extent that he forbids her to remain Louis’ Source.

Forced to step aside, Henriette witnesses the swift rise of a new player at the French court: the handsome and self-assured Chevalier de Lorraine quickly becomes both Louis’s new Source of magic — and Philippe’s latest lover. With her ladies Louise and Athénaïs now both vying for the king’s attention, Henriette is more isolated than ever, and her place at Versailles has never felt more in jeopardy.

So when she starts to experience a new surge in power and makes unlikely allies out of old enemies, will she use her magic to help the House of Bourbon stay in power— or to secure her own place at the center of the court?

368 pages, Hardcover

First published November 16, 2021

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About the author

E.M. Castellan

7 books76 followers
EM Castellan is a writer of Historical Fantasy novels. She grew up in France, but she now lives in London. A lover of all things historical, she has a particular fondness for 17th Century France and Ancient Rome.

Feiwel & Friends published her Young Adult debut IN THE SHADOW OF THE SUN, which Publishers Weekly called “a captivating read”, in 2020, with its sequel UNDER A STARLIT SKY following in 2021.

Her Wattpad stories have been read over 450,000 times, with THE BRIGHT AND THE LOST the winner of the 2017 Wattpad Awards (Wattys) in the Newcomers category, and selected as a Wattpad Featured Story for five months in 2017.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 17 of 17 reviews
Profile Image for Sarah Glenn Marsh.
Author 19 books768 followers
May 19, 2020
An unforgettable sequel- I was so happy to be reunited with all my favorites for more intrigue and of course, more thrilling magic and romantic entanglements!
Profile Image for Haadiya.
147 reviews74 followers
January 19, 2022
I requested an e-ARC of this book by mistake, not realising it was the second in a series. Having said that, I am fairly familiar with the Versailles history and the backgrounds of the real-life characters, so I felt comfortable diving in. The book was entertaining and well-paced, with an intriguing and unique take on the Sun King. I could feel Henriette's emotions and frustrations coming through the book, and I was eager to find out how the storey ended. I do think the "villain" and twist were a little anticlimactic for my tastes.

Despite this compelling premise, the novel quickly devolves into melodrama. From the first page to the last, the characters are eerily similar to the popular kids in a poorly written high school drama: shallow, immature, and privileged. There isn't a single character on the page who I enjoyed reading about, least of all the Mary Sue protagonist, who felt like the author's self-insert for a childhood princess fantasy.

A two-dimensional cast is made even more difficult to redeem by the writing. With a bland, unimaginative, and amateurish style, the reader's only emotion as secrets are revealed, spells are cast, and relationships are shattered is growing irritation. Under a Starlit Sky is the type of book that critics point to when they dismiss YA.
Profile Image for Wesley.
225 reviews1 follower
September 22, 2021
Thank you to Teen Ink and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

In Under a Starlit Sky, E.M. Castellan transports the reader to a 1600s Versailles full of intrigue, betrayal, and magic. After the events of In the Shadow of the Sun, young Henriette has defeated the darkness lurking at the French court and put her differences with her husband Philippe behind her - or so she thinks. But with the arrival of a mysterious new courtier who quickly enamors Versailles, nothing is as stable as she thought. When her worsening illness and fading magic force her to cede her position as the king’s Source to the illustrious newcomer - whose effects her husband is far from immune to - Henriette is left back at square one, isolated and disbelieved. With spells vanishing and rumors spreading left and right, she must turn old enemies into new allies and face the truth about the real darkness at the heart of Versailles.

Despite this strong premise, the book quickly nosedives into melodrama. The characters are decidedly reminiscent of the popular kids in a badly written highschool drama: shallow, immature, and privileged from the first page to the last. There is not a single character whose presence on the page was enjoyable to read about, least of all the Mary Sue protagonist, who felt like the author’s self-insert for a childhood princess fantasy.

The writing itself makes a two-dimensional cast even more difficult to redeem. With a bland, unimaginative, and amateur style, the only emotion the reader feels as secrets are revealed, spells cast, and relationships shattered is increasing irritation. Under a Starlit Sky is the kind of book that skeptics point to when they label YA as immature and poorly written.

As for the genre, the book could only be called historical in the loosest interpretation of the word. The wonderful, intricate, and atmospheric details that make historical fiction so immersive are nowhere to be found in this supposedly historical fantasy. If not for the occasional French spell or mention of Versailles as the setting, the characters could be anywhere. After some chapters, I began to suspect that the author had only a very hazy understanding of what the daily life of the French royal court in the 1600s actually entailed. The main cast spends a dubious amount of time sitting around with no engagements while wearing fancy clothing that is described in far more detail than any reader could want.

Perhaps the book’s most puzzling failure, though, is its emotional incoherence. The characters' reactions and feelings to the upheavals of court life are simply mystifying: when Henriette is finally on the verge of bringing down the villain, with whom her husband is having an affair, she feels a sudden wave of guilt at the thought of removing this much-needed source of the constant attention and validation her husband’s fragile ego demands. Later, she becomes furious when she learns her friend is having an affair with the king - not because of the emotional distress to the king’s wife, but because of the emotional distress to the king’s other mistress. This utter lack of emotional logic was the final straw for a cast one would have to take great pains to empathize with.

Rarely have I come across a book which I cannot recommend on any basis, but Under a Starlit Sky fits the bill. Between painfully amateur writing, irritating characters, and incoherent reactions with no evidence of historical research to be seen, I entreat readers of any genre to save themselves the disappointment and pick up something else.
Profile Image for Kristen McDermott.
Author 5 books23 followers
August 8, 2022
My review of this book appears in Historical Novels Review issue 99 (February 2022):
Castellan concludes her In the Shadow of the Sun duology, set in a fantasy-alternative version of the French Court of Louis XIV. Geared toward a young adult audience, Castellan’s 17th-century France relies on clichéd depictions of both court intrigues and magical powers but redeems them somewhat with a complex portrait of the famous marriage between Henrietta of England (sister of King Charles II) and the charismatic Monsieur, the openly bisexual brother of the Sun King. The union of these two attractive nobles—each more sensible and humane than their ambitious royal siblings—is depicted in Castellan’s novel as a modern “open” marriage made possible by the essential decency of the spouses and their allies in the competitive French court.
Writers of fantasy have been making great strides in representation, not just with LGBTQ+ characters like Monsieur. This novel also presents a protagonist who struggles to navigate court politics while managing a chronic illness (the real Henrietta was frequently debilitated by lung and digestive problems). It’s refreshing to experience the exhausting rounds of courtly social obligations from the point of view of someone who is realistic about their toll on even the healthiest of constitutions.
However well intentioned, the novel creaks under the weight of a thin plot of magical intrigue and far too many repetitive details of fabrics and furniture, as well as the delicious French cuisine that Henrietta constantly rejects. Historical fiction fans will be frustrated with the many inaccuracies and anachronisms, and fantasy fans may be impatient with the system of magic’s lack of coherence and logic, which is used (to avoid conflict with actual historical events) mainly for entertainment purposes, making the descriptions of sparkling illusions redundant in the context of the actual splendors of Versailles.
22 reviews1 follower
June 13, 2022
Under a Starlit Sky is the sequel in EM Castellan's story of life at the French court under Louis XIV, the Sun King. The story is gripping and entertaining, but readers may want to know that it presents a homosexual relationship between two characters and the accepted dalliances of others outside their marriages amid the lushness and intrigue of the French court.

Henriette d'Angleterre, princess of England, has married Louis' brother, Philippe and taken up her position as part of the royal court. In addition to her aristocratic role, however, she is also valued for her skills as a Source, a holder of magic that magicians can draw on to produce magic. King Louis is a magician, and Henriette is his Source, but her failing health leads him to sideline her in favor of another Source, or at least that is the Sun King's rationale. As Henriette struggles with her health, her husband's romance with the new Source, and her desire to use her magic, she begins to see that everything is not right in the magical world that spins around Versailles. Spells have gone missing, secrets are being made and kept, and she suspects the new Source lies at the root of all of her problems. As she conspires with her friends to trap the new Source and protect France's magic, she must decide how much her marriage matters and whom she can trust. As she learns more about the role of magic at Louis' court, she sees the answers lie deeper and higher than she would have ever guessed.

Castellan weaves a believable story that draws readers in and keeps them riveted by the interpersonal conflicts, the gorgeously described settings, and the deft use of magic in a way that is credible and convincing. As a reader who typically shuns fantasy, I was hooked by the story's plot and characters. Castellan captures the drama, intrigue, and risk of life under Louis XIV when his absolute power made everyone cautious, wary, and obedient. The lavish setting of Versailles, the clothing and foods, decor and rituals all make readers feel immersed in French history. The more realistic the setting, the better readers can sink into the plot, and Castellan has excelled in this endeavor.

While the plot is well-paced and quick, and the conflicts arise well before the story can lag, the characters are what kept me fascinated. Henriette is gentle, intelligent, and skilled, but she knows how to play the royal game and know exactly what lines she cannot cross. Her husband, Philippe, the younger brother of the Sun King, is complex and draws sympathy, having lived his life in the shadow of Louis. Appearances by D'Artagnan of The Three Musketeers, author Charles Perrault, and Louis's finance minister Nicholas Fouquet add real authenticity to the story, creating a fascinating experience for readers who balance the rich and accurate history with the elements of magic and fantasy. While some elements of the story could be sensitive for some readers, such as Philippe's open homosexuality and the abundance of commonplace and public infidelities, Under a Starlit Sky is a successful work of historical fantasy. It provides a solid foundation of historical fact to undergird the fantastical elements that give the story its flavor and mood and support a plot that is quick, complex, and surprising.
Profile Image for TheBookMaven.
463 reviews8 followers
August 23, 2022
Versailles Resplendent in Mischief and Magic --French Sun King Louis XIV is building his legacy palace of Versailles in the 1660s with not only glass, mirrors, and gardens, but enchantments and magic in E.M. Castellan’s “Under A Starlit Sky.”

With the former court mage imprisoned for treason and Princess Henriette’s magic and health waning, Louis brings in a rival spell-spinner to assist him at Versailles. The new associate is the alluringly debonair Chevalier de Lorraine, with whom Prince Philippe, Henriette’s bisexual husband, quickly becomes enamored.

Court life is always tumultuous and rife with gossip and rumors. Since Lorraine’s arrival, things have taken a turn for the worse. Henriette is accused falsely of having an affair. Philippe is infatuated with the Chevalier. Other stranger activities are also occurring. Spells are disappearing—from grimoires and also magicians’ memories. Undoubtedly, the Chevalier de Lorraine is to blame. Or is he?

Although E.M. Castellan’s “Under A Starlit Sky” is the sequel to “Beneath A Starless Sky,” it is a fun standalone fantasy fiction on its own because I haven’t had the pleasure of reading the prequel. I particularly enjoyed Castellan’s vivid imagery of French court life and her well-developed characters.


Title: “Under A Starlit Sky”
Author: E.M. Castellan
Genre: Teens & YA | Fantasy | Fiction
Publication Date: 16 November 2021
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Publishing Group, Feiwel & Friends

STAR RATING ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
The Book Maven’s Journal—Reviews for Word Connoisseurs

Reviews are posted promptly on NetGalley, GoodReads, and Twitter; then, upon publication, also to appropriate sales channel sites.

#Under A Starlit Sky #EMCastellan #MacmillanChildren'sPublishingGroup
#Feiwei&Friends #NetGalley TheBookMaven @maven_book

My sincere thanks and appreciation goes to NetGalley, Author E. M. Castellan, Macmillan Children's Publishing Group, and Publishers Feiwel & Friends for this Advance Reader’s Copy (ARC) for review.
Profile Image for Lilibet Bombshell.
456 reviews52 followers
November 14, 2021
Real Rating: 4 Stars

There was a different kind of enjoyment to be found here in “Under the Starlit Sky” from its’ predecessor novel, “In the Shadow of the Sun”: the first was full of discovery, wonderment, a young girl’s naivete, the forming and firming of friendships, and treachery not easily rooted out but ultimately contained and imprisoned by the end.

“Under the Starlit Sky” is just as enjoyable as the first book in this series (which I’m expecting will end here as a duology, since in real life Henriette really was very ill and never lived to see Versailles finished, unless someone else knows more than I do and is willing to spill the beans), but in a different manner: the discovery, wonderment, and naivete are gone, replaced with weariness, bitterness, wariness, and no small bit of fear as the Sun King continues with his plan to build Versailles. In juxtaposition with Henriette’s fervent agreements with Louis’ plans regarding the ultimate trap against treason Versailles would ultimately turn out to be, now she is unsure as to whether or not that would be such a good idea given Louis is turning more careless and callous to the people in his life he used to care for as the weeks pass by. Ambition and drive have taken the place of care and consideration. Consolidation of power seems to be Louis’ ultimate goal, and he doesn’t seem to care whom he hurts in the process.

Henriette is no longer naive as she gazes at the face in the court, seeing more than just good and evil, choosing instead to look at the different facets of the many courtiers that serve the crown, seeking out the people she feels she can trust to best serve France and not simply themselves or Louis. Friendships are tested to their limits, and treachery is discovered early but is a cat’s cradle nearly impossible to unravel.

So while “Under the Shadow of the Sun” was a lighter, more magical read, “Under the Starlit Sky” was darker, mysterious, more tense, and full of court intrigue.
Profile Image for Julie Anna.
234 reviews7 followers
November 24, 2021
Under A Starlit Sky

Thank you to Fierce Reads and Netgalley for an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

When I first read the first book in this series, In the Shadow in the Sun, I found myself intrigued by the era that the author chose to write in, and the incorporation of magic. This, combined with the style of prose, made this an overall atmospheric reading experience.

However, I found in the first book that I wanted more in terms of worldbuilding in relation to magic as well as character development. I found that there were too many plot conveniences for my liking, and I also felt like the main character lacked flaws, making her a bit too unrealistically perfect. I was curious to see if there would be more development and improvements on this front in Under A Starlit Sky, but the book turned out to be incredibly similar in these regards to the first book. Plot-wise, I found the first book more interesting as well, as the second book’s plot drags somewhat in some parts.

With that being said, I’d recommend the sequel to those who enjoyed reading In the Shadow in the Sun. If you enjoyed the first book, you’ll find the same writing and atmosphere in Under A Starlit Sky. But if you didn’t enjoy the first book as much, you may find too many similarities in the sequel.

You can find more of my reviews here: www.julieannasbooks.com 🖤
March 13, 2022
Six years ago, a prophecy had foretold my death, I had agreed to an arranged marriage in a foreign court and been told to forget about happiness. World-changing fates and illustrious legacies were what royals could expect instead.

A strong sequel that does a good job of propping up the original. While, in my mind, not quite as strong as the first book, this one still tells a solid story. I wish their would have been more of the characters from the first book present in the narrative - I understand why it was set up that way, but I still feel like there could have been a few more interactions between the original cast and the new cast.

Still, a very good sequel, and while I have a feeling Castellan will probably not return to this world for a third foray, if she did I would be very happy to come back to this universe.
46 reviews
October 3, 2022
Six years ago, a prophecy had foretold my death, I had agreed to an arranged marriage in a foreign court and been told to forget about happiness. World-changing fates and illustrious legacies were what royals could expect instead.

A strong sequel that does a good job of propping up the original. While, in my mind, not quite as strong as the first book, this one still tells a solid story. I wish their would have been more of the characters from the first book present in the narrative - I understand why it was set up that way, but I still feel like there could have been a few more interactions between the original cast and the new cast.

Still, a very good sequel, and while I have a feeling Castellan will probably not return to this world for a third foray, if she did I would be very happy to come back to this universe.
Profile Image for Soph the Oaf.
399 reviews28 followers
June 22, 2021
Meh. The first book was sort of interesting, I guess, but this one did not improve. In fact, it only went downhill from there. Not much has changed: Henriette is still a Mary Sue, the rest of the characters are still rich, privileged assholes. The only interesting character is Phillippe, and even he is starting to get tiring. So, basically, this book is just another boring book in the bleak land of YA historical fantasy. Why am I even surprised?
Profile Image for Emily Faye .
122 reviews4 followers
April 9, 2022
I really enjoyed the first book of the series, but this one fell short for me. Tbh, not much of the plot changed…Henriette is still Henriette and the rest of the characters were still rich and privileged. Two stars out of five.

I received a free ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Tara.
1 review
August 28, 2022
main character didn’t get any less annoying or stupid, literally the same story with a different villain, extremely predictable, spent the whole time hating on henriette. i like how it’s based on actual historical figures and places.
Profile Image for joe.
81 reviews1 follower
May 15, 2022
4.0 stars!
I enjoyed this second book much more than the first. I still didn't love Henriette's character, but I think the plotline and worldbuilding was a little more flushed out in this book.
Profile Image for Kacie Clark.
260 reviews8 followers
August 2, 2021
I accidentally requested an e-ARC of this book not realizing it was the 2nd in a series. That being said, I am fairly familiar with the Versailles history and the real life characters backgrounds so I felt I could dive in. I found the book the be entertaining and well-paced with an interesting and unique take on the Sun King. I could feel Henriette’s emotions and frustrations come through the book and I felt committed to finding out the end of the story. I do feel the “villain” and twist we’re a tad anticlimactic for my personal tastes.
Profile Image for Erin Arkin.
1,659 reviews355 followers
December 8, 2021
I really enjoyed this second book in the series. It had been a while since I read book one so I did have to go back a bit to review what happened in book one but once I did that, I jumped right back in.

I thought Castellan did a great job of pulling me back into the story of these characters. We get to see how things are shifting for Henriette and what that means for her relationships with those who surround her. Because of her illness, her relationship with the King is shifting because of a new Source supporting him. She's also finding that her relationship with Phillippe is taking a hit because of that same Source. She's finding that she has to be more secretive and work with others within the court to figure out what's going on and solve her problems.

In the end, I thought Castellan wrapped up the book / series in a good way. There's plenty of magic and intrigue in this book and I look forward to picking up whatever she writes next.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the review copy.
Displaying 1 - 17 of 17 reviews

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