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The Beholden

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Orphaned as young women, Celestia and Izara De Malena find themselves land rich but destitute, with only a failing rainforest acreage, Celestia’s perfect manners, and Izara’s nascent magic to their aristocratic names. With the last of their money running out, they enact a dangerous plan—using a spell she doesn’t fully understand, Izara summons the Lady of the Seraphine and demands a favor: a husband for Celestia, one rich enough to enable the De Malena sisters to keep their land. But a favor from the river goddess always comes at a cost . . . 

Now, five years later, rumors of war and disease are spreading, Celestia’s husband has been called away on a secret mission for the Emperor, and the Lady of the Seraphine is back to collect her due. Izara will be forced to leave the academy where she has been studying to become a mage; Celestia will be pulled from her now-flourishing farm while newly pregnant with her first child. Together, they must repay their debt to the Lady—embarking on a mission that will put them on a collision course with Celestia’s husband, the Emperor, and a god even more powerful than the Lady of the Seraphine. 

Gorgeous, compelling, and utterly captivating, The Beholden follows Celestia and Izara as they journey from the lush rainforest to a frozen desert on an impossible quest to find a god who doesn’t want to be found and prevent the end of the world.

544 pages, Paperback

First published January 18, 2022

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About the author

Cassandra Rose Clarke

70 books1,450 followers
Cassandra Rose Clarke is a speculative fiction writer living amongst the beige stucco and overgrown pecan trees of Houston, Texas. She graduated in 2006 from The University of St. Thomas with a bachelor’s degree in English, and in 2008 she completed her master’s degree in creative writing at The University of Texas at Austin. Both of these degrees have served her surprisingly well.

During the summer of 2010, she attended the Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle, where she enjoyed sixty-degree summer days. Having been born and raised in Texas, this was something of a big deal. She was also a recipient of the 2010 Susan C. Petrey Clarion Scholarship Fund.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 61 reviews
Profile Image for GG_Reads.
360 reviews30 followers
August 14, 2021
Thank you Netgalley for the free copy of this book that I got in exchange for an honest review!

Honestly, I only even looked at this book because the cover is STUNNING. The makings of a great, really atmospheric book. But then I read the synopsis and the plot seemed pretty basic and totally done before.

Not to say I'm an oracle or anything, but I was bang on the mark.

The plot just really wasn't it for me. And for me, the plot is everything. I want the action, the suspense, but that just isn't what I got enough of for a fantasy. And the magic system was totally lacking.

But here is a (short) list of good qualities this book has, that I'm sure made this book for some people, but just weren't enough to bring it back for me.
1)The jungle made for such an amazing setting. And with that sprinkle of disease and war and all that good stuff, it really was the thing that kept going. Anyone else get major Pandora vibes?
2) The sister relationship. It wasn't all hugs and kisses, but it was real AF. And had that underlying comitment to each other-even when screaming.I always appreciate sibling/platonic relationships in books more than romantic ones, so this one totally delivered on that front.

Wow, that really was a short list.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,246 reviews219 followers
June 9, 2022
Sisters Celestia and Izara De Malena are down on their luck and make a dangerous deal to secure their future, inadvertently roping in their guide, ex-pirate Ico. Five years later their deal comes due and the three of them are commanded by a goddess to find and reason with Lord Kjari, a powerful sorcerer thought to have died 500 years ago. What follows is a tour of the world they live in, encounters with various gods and spirits and conflict where friends become enemies and enemies become friends.

The world-building here is interesting with a wide range of climates and settings. The characters going from a tropical jungle river system through to a cold desert in weeks to months of travel (going south), so I assume the author based her world on South American geography. The characters are described as having dark skin, so that fits too, but there really aren't any recognizable South American cultures here. There's an interesting multi-tiered magic system but I wish it had been explored more, along with the system of gods and demi-gods.

Character-wise, I think the relationship between the sisters was really well done and I also enjoyed seeing Celestia's pregnancy be such a major part of the book. I don't think I've seen too many fantasy adventure books where a main character was progressing a pregnancy throughout. I did really enjoy the low-key romance in this (very low-key, we don't even see a kiss until the last chapter) and I enjoyed Ico's relationship as well.

Overall a 3.5 which I'm going to round up to a 4 because I'd be happy to read a sequel.
Profile Image for Ariel.
157 reviews43 followers
October 4, 2021
Arc received from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

In The Beholden we follow two sisters and a reformed Pirate as they fulfill the tenets of a bargain they made with a River Goddess 5 years prior. They are tasked with finding the source of a sickness that is spreading through their land. A sickness that means people, animals, and plants are not dying. The world is out of balance and it is their task to restore it.

There were some interesting things in this novel. I thought that the world the author created was cool, there was an intriguing magic system and we were given a pantheon of gods that I had never truly seen before.

Honestly, though, this book ended up missing the mark for me. It had quite a bit of potential but there were quite a few missed opportunities as overall the story lacked tension and character growth for me. The magic system was never truly explained despite us being presented with a counter system and the lush jungle that was presented was underutilized.

We were given three potentially awesome characters between a powerful mage, a former pirate, and a noble woman who was traveling on this quest despite being pregnant. These three and how they approached the conflict, each other, and the obstacles thrown in their way could've been wonderful! Despite this and the events that they faced (when they happened) we barely saw any character growth through the novel except at the very end when it was necessary to the plot progression. It also was a little aggrevating to see the fact that one of the characters was pregnant and not experiencing pregnancy as she should've referenced every other paragraph. Its understandable on some level and I am not a parent but, women have been pregnant and giving birth in far worse circumstances for centuries. Outside of traveling and one attack, this character had it pretty good.

I can often forgive two dimensional characters if you give me an active plot with tension. This book mostly revolved around the three characters traveling somewhere, speaking with some folks and then moving onto the next desination. But, even when they traveled they were mostly just talking to each other or bemoaning their situation. When we did get an action scene it didn't feel important. Because, there didn't really seem to be any threat. Even one of the characters referencing people that would've been hunting them was never delivered upon. There was a missed opportunity in the sickness as well because it never truly affected their journey nor did it cause an obstacle. Really, there were hardly any obstacles that prevented the characters from doing anything. Most of them were easily overcome as well.

I think this had a lot of potential and I'd be interested to see what the author creates next but, this book was just not there for me.
Profile Image for Marije.
42 reviews
September 26, 2021
Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an arc of this book!

Before talking about my opinion on the story I just want to give some love to Kristina Caroll, the artist who made the cover of this book. It is absolutely stunning and the reason I spotted this book in the first place.

I thought this story was quite average and I don't have a very positive or negative opinion on the book. Many aspects of the book were not bad, but they weren't great either. There are several things that stood out to me though, either in a positive or a negative way.

The first thing being the relationships in the book: they were great. I loved the sister relationship Celestia and Izara had with each other. We could often see them arguing with each other, but in the end they would always end up caring about each other. This is probably one of the best executions of a sibling relationship that I've seen in books.
I also liked the relationships that were developed throughout the book. Ico, a former pirate who gets dragged into Celestia's and Izara's adventure against his will, starts off being very cynical and is always seen (mopperen) at the women. I liked how we saw his behaviour change over time.
I also liked how the romance was slowly developed during the book. I can't discuss it too much because I'll then go into spoilers, but I want to note that I like the slow build-up and I liked how the romance ended.

In the beginning of the book we got a look into some dark magic of this world. Unfortunately this wasn't explored further and that's a bit disappointing to me, because I love reading about all kinds of magic.

The world building was alright. There were loads of descriptions of awesome places our characters travelled through, such as magical forests and ice cold snow plains. However, I personally felt like the world wasn't really tied together. The characters seemed to jump from one place to another and it didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. I really wished the book came with a map, because I think that would improve this a lot.

The plot of the book also wasn't fantastic, but it wasn't bad at all. Our characters were constantly thrown into new challenging situations, so that I never got bored reading this book. The pace of the book was also fast enough so I didn't become sick of this book. On the other hand, the plot was quite straightforward, with very little interesting twists. So no bonus points for the plot.

Over all a solid 3/5 stars and a book that I'd recommend if the synopsis sounds quite interesting to you.
Profile Image for Anj✨.
176 reviews27 followers
February 19, 2022
This book is so pretty! It's actually the reason why I requested it and the book started spectacularly. The two sisters are in the jungle trying to find a god or goddess to bargain with then it went downhill (my reading experience I mean).

The premise is interesting, it's well-paced, and the relationship between the sisters is well done. The writing style is beautiful and descriptive. Sadly, it's not enough to keep me interested. I'm surprised I finished this book coz i just lost interest upon chapter 3 tbh. It lacks world-building despite its awesome concept and the plot is straightforward and flat. The characters are underdeveloped anf don't have any character arc. Another regretful read *sigh*
Rating: 1.5/5🌟

Thanks to Erewhon Books for the DRC via Netgalley. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Profile Image for Dana.
987 reviews73 followers
January 24, 2022
A young debutante makes a deal with a god to help her find a worthy husband, in the process she, her sister (a scholar) and their guide (a pirate) are made beholden to this goddess. Years later, the goddess calls in that favor and the three find themselves on an epic quest to capture an evil force bent on the destruction of the world as they know it. Their journey takes them through dangerous jungles, hidden cities and an epic cold desert. It also places them at odds with the emperor. Danger abounds and each of the three react quite differently.

This one took me a long time to get through, two weeks where I had to really press myself to keep going. I'm not sure quite what it was, there is interesting magic, an epic quest, the walking dead, hidden cities and arguing Gods. I think maybe it was the lack of attachment to the characters? No real character development? The writing was overly descriptive which was immersive but it meant there were long stretches without much action. I think had this been a 300 page book with an editor that tightened it up significantly, it would have scored much better for me. 

Thanks to Netgalley for an advanced copy of this novel. All opinions above are my own.
Profile Image for Lata.
3,499 reviews187 followers
February 25, 2022
I started reading this and never really found it capturing my imagination. The story has great elements: sisters, magic, terrifying goddesses, but I kept having to force myself to read the book, and only got about 17% of the way into the narrative before putting the book down in favour of reading other books.
Profile Image for Danny Frankland.
20 reviews1 follower
August 22, 2021

(ARC received in exchange for honest review at www.netgalley.com)

Cassandra Rose Clarke’s ‘The Beholden’ had my attention the moment she released its gorgeous cover. Within its pages is the tale of the De Malena sisters, managing an exhausted rainforest that’s no longer turning a profit. When losing their land begins to look like possibility, the sisters use their magic to summon a god, imploring her to find Celestia a husband with the means to help them keep their land. However, favours don’t come cheap, and not all gods are born equal…

‘The Beholden’ has atmosphere in spades. Whilst gods and magic aren’t exactly an original premise in Fantasy, Clarke does an exceedingly good job in her efforts to depict an enchanting and believable world without feeling derivative. Notably, our protagonist’s world is bursting with life, and Clarke’s prose brings the lush greenery and dense jungle to the forefront of the imagination. Her description is rich, and the relationships she builds between the sisters are endearingly accurate, complete with peaks and troughs, tears and love. The magic system is fascinating - loose and scantly defined, but fitting in a world defined by the natural.

Alas, it’s slightly unfortunate that Clarke seems to struggle somewhat with structure. Although her prose is floral and evocative, her tendency to shift POVs without warning and the multitude of different story threads can make this a tough read. It’s a minor complaint, but relevant - I found myself frequently re-reading passages to better understand what had just happened. Equally, it’s worth noting just how plot-centric ‘The Beholden’ can be - its characters are well-developed, but it’s hard to ignore that advancing the narrative and provocative world-building are the primary focuses here. If you’re one of those readers who enjoys character development above all else, you may find ‘The Beholden’ somewhat lacking.

In conclusion, ‘The Beholden’ is a triumph. Although its themes and tropes may feel like retreading old ground, the strength of the world and its story keeps it feeling fresh. Truly, how many fantasy novels are really original these days, anyway? I’m yet to read any of Clarke’s vast back-catalogue, but I’ll certainly be dipping into it soon. ‘The Beholden’ isn’t perfect, but its few flaws are forgivable considering the wonderful story on offer and the beauty of the world Clarke has built. The novel is due for release on January 10th, 2022, and should be available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I’d recommend you add it to your wish list - it won’t be one you’ll want to miss.
Profile Image for Kiara.
157 reviews61 followers
January 17, 2022
The Beholden follows the story of two sisters, Celestia and Izara, who are the last living descendants of their noble household. After the death of their parents, the family wealth started to decline, so they decided to petition one of their nation's deities: the Lady of the Seraphine. After they get their boon they are warned that they are now Beholden, meaning that sometime in the future they will be called upon to do a favor for the deity.

This book had such an interesting premise; I love books where a deal is made with a god or deity because it always turns out horribly. There is always a lesson to be learned about accepting what you have and figuring out your problems for yourself because gods will only make them worse. This book had that. It also had a really lush and beautiful setting. The nation, The Seraphine, was set within a jungle and riverlands locale, and Clarke's descriptions were great. I could really envision everything.

But that is where the good things about this book end, unfortunately. There was little to no character growth for any of the characters throughout the course of the book. Having the characters do things is NOT the same as character growth, They all ended the book just as insufferable as when they started, and that can work in some instances, but it felt anticlimactic in this book when taken in conjunction with all of the other flaws. I was waiting for some type of payoff and there was none.

I also think that the reasoning behind the main villain's wanting to leave the world/pantheon was very weak. He wanted to leave because no one liked him? Huh?? Ok...

This book ended up being pretty disappointing to me. It's always a letdown when a promising premise doesn't deliver on that promise.

**eARC provided by the publisher, Erewhon, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review**
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Kahlia.
539 reviews37 followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
April 23, 2022
I went into this book cautiously optimistic despite the low (by Goodreads standards) rating at the time I picked it up. I love unique settings, and the tropical river setting (exemplified by the gorgeous cover) seemed right up my alley. I also know that GR ratings don't always tell the whole story and we can easily trick our own brains into misinterpreting them.

And to start off with it, this book rewarded that faith. The plot clipped along at a reasonably fast pace even if I could have done with a few more chapter breaks, and the setting is pretty fun, and even includes a magical river boat! But, here's the thing - even more than settings, I care about characters, and frankly I found all three of these characters to be either bland (Izara, mostly Ico apart from the occasional snarky comment) or insufferable (Celestia). This book really failed to give them consistent character motivations that lasted beyond a single page, which meant that most of the dialogue boiled down to functional plot driven stuff and/or the characters endlessly complaining. I got halfway through this book, and I still have no idea what motivates any of them as people.

I do think there's something in this book for people who care less about characterisation and just want to be entertained by a cool setting, but I ultimately put it down at the halfway mark.
Profile Image for Elias Eells.
49 reviews
January 20, 2022
A fun adventure fantasy with some wonderful aesthetics! I love reading things set in warm climes in winter, and even when THE BEHOLDEN departs for frozen deserts or mountain reaches, I still felt the presence of the Seraphine and the tropical jungle that wraps around the river. The blend of divine magic, alchemical power, and early modern technology was fun and the exploration of a world larger than you imagined. Most important though is the consideration of the cost in a 'happily ever after' and what you do when that wish you thought was yours forever becomes a lot more complicated.

Two drinks (a mocktail and a cocktail) inspired by the book are now on Bar Cart Bookshelf:


(My thanks to Erewhon Books for providing me with an ARC in order to have recipes on release day!)
Profile Image for Leticia.
Author 3 books102 followers
June 18, 2022
The cover and blurb/premise of this book are very interesting, but I unfortunately didn't like the execution of that premise, the writing or the characters.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for giving me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Tycho Janssen.
25 reviews
November 8, 2021
First of all I want to thank NetGalley for gifting me this free copy!!!

Well I gave this book 3.5 stars.

The plot:

The plot was alright. It could have been better. It is basically a standard quest story. Although it was original enough. I do think some parts weren’t necessary and some side plot lines weren’t delved in to enough. I also didn’t really like the steampunk setting of it and that was not because of the time period but more because how the characters acted. They were just very old fashioned and I hated it.

The characters:

They were a mwah. I didn’t really like any of them. Out of all of them I liked Izara the most because she was a little bit bad ass and she was kind of funny. The characters were very boring and flat for me. I do want to say I really liked the lgbtq smooch at the end. Although it was really out of nowhere. You did see it coming. But it was really weird. I don’t know how to explain it. Also I didn’t like how they acted. It was a lot of a lady should act like this and a man should act like this. This really annoyed. They would say stuff like a aristocratic lady shouldn’t behave like that. And lastly some medical stuff didn’t make any sense. Maybe that is part of the time period it was in. I don’t know but some stuff was just wrong. Also the husband was messed up. He was just puke puke puke🤢 from the beginning. Hope you feel the same about him as me.

The world:

This was definitely a plus punt. The world was very interesting and big. Everything was so well worked out. You could clearly understand were the main characters were. The different cultures in this world were also very interesting. I just love everything about it.

The magic:

This was the most interesting part of the whole story. It’s al about alchemical powers and using magic from some sort of spirit gods. And wow this was amazing. You had a whole other realm which people with this magic could go to mentally. They saw the formulas than of the different kind of spells. Sadly this stuff isn’t used as much as I would like to. Somethings are just badly explained and magic is a prominent part in this story but it isn’t used much.

After all this wasn’t a bad read and I would still recommend it. If you love a historical fantasy. As you can see in my review I’m not a historical fiction fan😂.

Well thanks for reading and have a nice day everyone.
68 reviews2 followers
October 2, 2021
Thank you to NetGalley and the Publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Heed the following trigger warnings for this book: (TW:) blood and gore, death, birth, pregnancy
"The Beholden" takes places in a land of jungles and deserts, pirates and aristocracy, magic and gods. In this place, in the Seraphine, a warm, humid region of river and jungle, two sisters and an unwitting ex-pirate make a deal with the Lady of the Seraphine. Life takes a turn for the better, they are right where they want to be. Celestia is pregnant, Izara in the middle of her studies at the Academy and Ico is living his best life far in the north with a god of his own. But a favor owed to an Ariana, a god, is a tricky thing, and they are asked to pay their due soon enough. The Lady sends them on a trip to find a mysterious and dangerous Lord. Along the way, friends become enemies, enemies become friends and strangers become closer than they ever imagined.
This book stole my heart. The writing was almost lyrical, every word like a brushstroke in a beautiful painting. I could see the wonderful world Clarke created every step of the way. The characters were diverse and interesting, and their relationships well developed and described. Especially the wlw relationship was subtly and softly developed in an amazing way. I had actually forgotten that this book had been described as LGBTQIA+ fiction and wasn't expecting it at all at that point in the story and the developement still felt extremely natural. The villain is understandable and relateable in a very unique way. The descriptory language and comparitively simple set of relevant characters make the story seem very folksy, almost like a transcribed fairy tale, in the best way.
I do think the pacing is a bit uneven, slightly too slow in the beginning and a bit fast towards the end. I can also understand why some people have found the switching perspective during the chapters without warning a bit confusing, but the story is written in third person and I did not find this bothersome at all. I actually preferred this to the 'switching every chapter' type that is more common in fantasy, as the way it was done in this book allowed for more flexibility and better insight.
Overall, I recommend this book to anyone who likes adventure, fairy tales and fantasy.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
69 reviews
January 18, 2023
The Beholden by Cassandra Rose Clarke tells the story of two sisters who, after having made a pact with an ancient goddess, are called upon by her for a favor. The favor -- to find an ancient mage who has apparently resurrected himself -- draws them to far corners of their land and into the depths of the jungle. Together, along with their companion Ico, they go on a journey that will define them and their future home.

I honestly did not like this book at all. It is soulless, dry, and memorable only in how much injustice was done to the characters and plot. Worse, there was potential here, but the book is weighted down by its inability to get out of its own way. it is almost a parody of fantasy. To break it down:

The Characters

The book starts promising enough with three characters: Izara, Celestia, and Ico. Izara and Celestia are sisters, who make a pact with an ancient goddess in exchange for Celestia's finding of a husband. Ico is along for the ride as their guide. When they are called upon, Celestia is playing the perfect wife and soon-to-be mother while Izara is studying magic. Ico is living with another goddess, after having seen atrocities. This, however, is where the character development ends.

These characters lack so much depth that they become caricatures. Celestia is defined solely through her husband and her future child. About every 4 pages, the author reminds us that Celestia is pregnant, lest we have forgotten. In every moment where there is a moment for growth, they remain staunchly the same as the world whirls around them. By the end of the book, you will find yourself facing the same people at the end, which will make you question what the purpose of this journey was.

The characters do not even successfully bond throughout the tale, because that would require changing who they are. Overall, they are just bland and quickly fade into the background of their own story.

There is some attempt at diversity in this book, but it is not handled well. This is a true example of diversity at the expense of inclusion. Nearly all of the characters are described as Black or brown-skinned, but that is the extent to which we examine these characters' cultures or background. There is the feeling of little lore that motivates them, and what lore we do see is poorly explained (see below). A brief moment of LGBTQ representation appears at the end of the book, but it is too late to be anything but a footnote.

The Plot

The plot is just...there. Despite coming in at 544 pages, nothing much happens and the characters barely do anything from one moment to the next other than travel. In the final chapters of the book, I counted at least for deus ex machina tropes that resolved the characters' conflicts without them having to do much if anything at all. There is no pacing; it's just a monotonous meandering from one point to the next with some uninteresting people defined by only a few character traits.

I think the worst part is that there was potential in this plot. At times the author gave us fleeting glimpses of deep questions, such as "What would happen if death stopped happening?", "Is there beauty in death and impermanence?", and "How do we maintain balance in the world?". However, none of the characters dare to truly examine these in depth and, as I mentioned, none of them change throughout the events of the story. The most horrifying experiences are instead drowned out by the need to narrate 3 days on a boat from 3 different perspectives in a sharp stop to any potential threads.

The Setting/World-Building

The setting was interesting in terms of it being a jungle, but that's about where it stops. The magic system is crude and poorly defined. In fact, I would say it is defined solely by what characters need to get them from one point to the next. The author's stream of consciousness approach leaves much to be desired in creating the complex systems that she wishes to convey.

Furthermore, it is unclear what time period this is in, what technology is available to characters and why, where in the world this is based off of, or any other indication of the world. There's an Emperor, but of what? They're in conflict with someone, but why? We get surface-level answers to these questions, but it's just not enough to motivate the characters, the plot, or really anything.


I would not recommend this book to anyone. I gave it one star because the cover is pretty and I think there was something there, but it's far from being even an average fantasy book. There are many more books with more interesting characters, magic systems, and purposeful writing that are far more interesting than this book was.
Profile Image for Susan.
283 reviews6 followers
January 13, 2022
I sadly have very few good things to say about this book, I did not enjoy it. It was very long and felt even longer. I stuck with it until the end because it was an ARC but I'm glad I'm done. I don't give out a lot of 1 star ratings and I almost went with 2 stars but I slept on it and it really is a 1 star for me.

The characters usually make or break a book for me and I really hated these characters. Celestia is incredibly annoying and just complains for the entire book, not offering to help or doing anything constructive. She starts off a spoiled housewife and has zero character growth to become anything beyond that. Her pregnancy is used and discussed ad nauseum although it added very little to the story. Izara had some potential but really was just the shell of a typical female fantasy main character with nothing unique and she even turned away from that and got weak and boring as the story went on. Ico is the most boring spineless pirate even written and every time he even showed a glimmer of personality, he disappeared for a few pages. I just didn't like a single one.

Then there's the world where these characters live which I do not understand, it is not explained at all. I don't know what anything looks like, the author didn't bother to tell me. They come across tons of statues and none of them are described. There seems to be a cold desert with sand. Other places are hot and there's a river. A lot of reviews are talking about the jungle atmosphere but the word "jungle" is not used. There are mentions of mangos many times and once they use a vine to climb off a boat. Does that mean jungle? They call trees the forest a few times. I have no idea where this book took place. I'm not looking for purple prose but a simple discussion of what the general surrounding looked like would have been nice.

There is some magic in this world but the magic is not really explained or even used much, it's just an undefined "magic" they speak of. There's some kind of other plane of existence and trances and I don't understand any of it or how it ties together. I don't know what the academy does or Izara's end goal of attending. Izara has magic but besides one instance (which is totally random and inconsistent but at least added some action), all she seems to be able to do is go into trances. The gods were an interesting idea and the whole growth versus decay bit had potential but it was buried among so much other nonsense that I had a hard time caring.

Lastly, the writing style didn't work for me. Only 15 chapters in a 544 page book is ridiculous not only because really long chapters are annoying but the chapters are intended to break up parts of the story. This story only had 15 parts and it really felt like it, the plot was so slow. The chapters also changed point of view with no warning and many times I was unclear on who the narrator was, their "voices" were so similar that it was easy to miss when the narrative changed.

So, yes, it's a 1 star for me.

*I received a free ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for JessiLea.
38 reviews
August 19, 2021
(ARC received in exchange for honest review at www.netgalley.com)

The Beholden - Cassandra Rose Clarke
🤝 A bargain with a goddess
👣 A trio of unlikely adventurers
🗺 A dangerous journey
🔮 Magic galore
🌏 The fate of the world in the balance

In desperation two sisters make a bargain with the a godess - the Lady of the Seraphine. A rich, kind husband for Celestia to revive their land, replenish their wealth and pay for Izara to study at the Mages Academy in exchange for an unnamed favor. Both sisters are Beholden to the Lady, and so is their unlucky guide Ico, an ex pirate attempting to make an honest living.

Five years later Celestia is happily married and finally pregnant, Izara is studying magic at the Academy and Ico has outrun his past and found peace in the arms of the Lady of Cold. All is well but not for long - with rumours of war and disease emerging the Lady of the Seraphine is calling in her favor and sending the unlikely trio on a dangerous mission to stop the unnatural plague of undeath sweeping across the land. Will the trio be able to repay their debt when their journey pits them against time, the Emperor and death itself?

Overall, I enjoyed the Beholden but there was just something missing for me. The atmoshpere, world building and jungle setting were interesting and intriguing. The setting was very detailed and beautifully described. The cover of this book is gorgeous! Love it.

I was really interested in the magic system and how it all ties together and works but that wasn't really explained - there were several types of magic mentioned but how they relate to each other is a bit unclear.

I enjoyed the characters but they felt a little straight forward and lacked a certain emotional depth or nuance. I even found the gods and godesses a bit easy to predict.

I love how the sister's relationship was portrayed - Celestia and Izara disagreed, deferred to each other's expertise, made decisions together and you could see their love for each other even in their disagreements. Ico seemed to be a bit of a 3rd wheel at times to add extra drama and comic relief to the plot with his ex-pirate shenanigans, drinking too much and possibly being chased by murderous bad guys.

I struggled with the structure of the writing in some part of the book - the chapters were very long especially early on. Each one had several sub-sections with multiple changing POVs which made it a bit confusing to keep track of all the threads of the story.

The story was extremely plot driven and had a big focus on worldbuilding. I thought the story, pacing and the development of the characters - particularly Omaria and Celestia (I LOVE THEM) - really picked up in the last 20% of the book and I was much more engaged in the race to the ending.

The ending was solid but I would have loved just a bit more closure. Everything was so richly described throughout the book that ending felt very quickly tied up compared to the length of the journey it took to arrive.
Profile Image for Sarah.
151 reviews17 followers
March 14, 2022
Celestia and Izara De Malena are orphaned sisters who, desperate to keep their family name and estate, make a deal with the Goddess of the River, The Lady of the Seraphine - a husband for Celestia in exchange for a favor. Finally, after five years, the Lady calls in her favor, at a time when Izara is pulled from the magical Academy, and Celestia is newly pregnant. Not to mention Ico, the ex-pirate river guide who got roped into their deal by either fate or hapless proximity. Together, the three of them venture out on a quest to stop the return of one of the most powerful mages in history, thought to have died half a millennia ago - Lord Kjari.

My favorite part of this book was the hierarchal nature of the gods, the Airiana & Laniana, and the magical system connected to siphoning their power. While elemental magic and alchemy are not anything new, there were elements to the mythology that felt new and fresh. The inventiveness of the gods is what drew me in the most.

Unfortunately, that's about all I really liked about it.

The characters, while engaging, did not inspire any attachment from me. I never felt invested in any of their stories, and I wanted to so badly! There were times when Ico's sass added a bit of zest and fun, but that's about it.

And, omg, the plot! I love a good quest, but it was such a struggle to get through at certain points. It's a wonder the book is so long because, by the time I finished, I felt like nothing noteworthy had happened. It was just a string of little moments with little to no meaning. I think the most frustrating part of this book was that there were multiple moments along the quest where they'd face a challenge, and the anticipation would build, and then it would just deflate like a remarkably sad balloon. There was no follow-through on these promised moments of tension, and everything seemed way too easy. Every time there's a proposed hardship or task to overcome, the characters are like, "oh, it's actually not so bad." Really!? Like, fine, the author explains why things seem to just work out, something about magic creating coincidences, but that's a shoddy excuse at best. And when we finally do get a moment of tension, it lasts about half a second before we're on to the next scene. And the ending! UGH, it was just so unsatisfying - you put these characters through all that, and for what!? An entirely predictable and unmemorable finale.

All in all, I wanted to like this book so much. Nothing makes me more heartbroken than a fantastic concept with so much potential that's lost in the plot because it's executed poorly.

Rating: 2.5/5 stars rounded up to 3!

Thank you, NetGalley and Erewhon Books, for the e-book!
Profile Image for Siavahda.
Author 2 books115 followers
December 19, 2021
I give up.

I made it to 62% this time, and I seriously considered forcing my way through to the end – but the thought of it is just exhausting. I don’t ever want to turn reading into a task rather than a pleasure, which is why I’m calling it on The Beholden.

I enjoyed several of Clarke’s YA books, and in combination with that stunning cover, I didn’t hesitate a second in requesting this book. But ultimately, this was a drag. It’s a quest plot, which has the characters travelling back and forth in pursuit of their goal…and pretty much nothing but travelling happens. I thought Clarke might use all the travelling to show off the worldbuilding – I was so interested in the gorgeous jungle setting! But you could have picked up this whole story, dropped it into a fake-Medieval Europe setting, and it wouldn’t have changed the story in any fundamental way. The jungle’s not important, and the bits of worldbuilding we get are either tiny, lectured at us, or nonsensical (do not get me started on the magical hidden city). The impression of beauty comes from the cover, not the writing, which had an odd rhythm and not nearly enough description. And frankly, I couldn’t stand any of the characters. Ico was the most sympathetic – a pretty normal guy who’s been dragged into magical shenanigans that he shouldn’t be on the hook for, and now he just wants to get it all done and go home. But I didn’t enjoy reading the passages that were from his PoV, and I couldn’t care less about the sisters.

I thought the worldbuilding re the sort-of-gods had a ton of potential, but again, we barely saw any of it, and what we saw made no sense. One of them sends the three characters on a quest…despite none of them being in any way suited for the task??? Maybe that’s explained in the last 40% of the book, but it was just infuriatingly stupid to send an ex-pirate, a pregnant noblewoman, and a mage who hasn’t finished her training after the most powerful wizard ever. Come on!

The whole thing was about moving from Point A to Point B to Point C, with everything being too convenient – they happen upon this secret, or that clue, or this house, or exactly the right person. Clarke made an attempt to explain this – by saying that magic creates coincidences – but…it didn’t work for me. It was a chore to read. Even the Big Reveal about the wizard they’re looking for? Didn’t make me blink. Not because I saw it coming – I didn’t – but because I didn’t care. I just wanted the book to be over already – which made me realise there was nothing stopping me from putting it down and walking away.

TL:DR: it doesn’t live up to the cover.
Profile Image for Meredith Martinez.
174 reviews3 followers
November 29, 2021
3.5/5 stars - this book REALLY needs a map included! If you read the description and it sounds like it would be right up your alley, you'll probably like it.

What I liked:
- The world building when it comes to the setting was really intriguing! With lush jungles, snowy mountains, harsh deserts, oceans, futuristic cities, old plantations, magical palaces, and more, this is definitely a world the characters can explore. I would love to see the fan art of all these locations! This is where a good map would come in, because it was hard to tell the scale of the world and the spatial relationship between locations.
- The pace of this book was good; there was always something happening and it didn't drag for me. Some (but certainly not all) of the plot points felt predictable but it was still enjoyable to read as the characters faced new challenges and explored new locations.
- Kristina Caroll, the artist who made the cover of this book, should be commended because the cover is AMAZING and is what drew me in and made me request the book in the first place!

What could have been better:
- The world building when it comes to the development of the world's magic was lacking for me. It seemed like we were sort of thrown into it with no explanation, and the system just kept expanding.
- Additionally, the time frame of the book wasn't really clear (in terms of how long the characters stayed in a location and how time passed). When you have a pregnant character and they find out they're pregnant and deliver the baby in the same book, it should take place over the course of multiple months, and with the way the plot moved this felt like it took a few weeks.
- The characters themselves felt sort of undeveloped and flat, which is sad because they had so much potential! Other than the unexpected romance threaded through that popped up at the end (no spoilers), it didn't feel like any of the characters really grew or changed as people or in their relationships with each other.
- I would have liked to see the characters actually interact with the main crisis in the story somehow (it seemed like they were just outrunning it the whole time without having to interact with it or realize how it's spreading).

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Bea.
247 reviews29 followers
December 5, 2021
First off I just want to say I adore the cover, it’s absolutely stunning & captivating, & it’s what drew me to this book in the first place.
Now, onto the book itself, for the most part I enjoyed the story but there was just something lacking for me, I found it a little difficult to stay engaged with the book. The world building & different settings were interesting, detailed & beautifully described, you could definitely picture the places written in your mind.

The magic system was fascinating however I was a bit disappointed there wasn’t a whole lot of detail put into explaining & describing the different types of magic, it fell a little short for me. I found the characters were enjoyable, however they felt a little one dimensional & it was hard to feel connected enough to them to be anything more than mildly interested in their back stories or futures. I even found the deities quite predictable & somewhat lacklustre.

The sister's relationship was well written – while the regularly disagreed with each other, they generally ended up deferring to each other's expertise & past experiences without resentment, & their love for each other (even when in they disagreed) was always clear. I didn’t feel like Ico added much to the overall story, of all the characters his POV’s felt the flattest to me.

I definitely prefer books that have multiple POVs to have their own chapters instead of multiple POVs per chapter, it makes it too choppy & hard to keep track when it keeps changing in the same chapter. The story was more plot driven than character driven, and had a big focus on worldbuilding, though it would have benefitted from showing the different magical systems & how they’re intertwined into the world. The pacing & characters just didn’t do it for me unfortunately. The ending was ok but I didn’t feel like it gave enough closure overall. 2 1/2 stars rounded up to three for Goodreads.

Thank you to Netgalley for this digital ARC received in exchange for honest review.
Profile Image for Chris Monceaux.
250 reviews2 followers
January 6, 2022
See more of my reviews and other bookish content here!

***Thank you to NetGalley and Erewhon Books for providing a copy of the book. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***

I trudged my way through this book against my better judgment. I kept hoping it would get better, but I honestly did not enjoy it all the way through the end. The pacing was extremely uneven with the first 80% of the book feeling so slow I kept checking the percentage I'd read and feeling absolute dismay that the number was still so low. The plot and writing were boring and repetitive. It was a simple quest story that had the characters going from one place to another over and over, but the biggest problem was the lack of real obstacles. The characters moved from place to place with no discernible plan, and the answers they sought were largely handed to them at each turn. Nothing really felt earned. It didn't help that the characters were extremely one-dimensional. Only one of them really exhibited any growth and that was mostly due to her being absolutely insufferable for most of the book. Any slight change to her character at all gave the impression of immense growth because of how awful she was for most of the book. The only saving grace of this book was the somewhat interesting bits of world-building. The gods and magic were really intriguing, but even they were underwhelming because of the way they were utilized. The magic felt almost nonsensical at times and seemed to be able to do whatever the plot needed it do without any logical explanation. Some of the themes explored were also interesting, like the need for balance and the impact of being hated/shunned on one's psyche, but the deliverance of them left a lot to be desired. Overall, I did not like this book and could probably write a lot more about why, but I don't need that kind of negativity. So, instead I'm just going to rate it 2 out of 5 stars and move on to something (hopefully) better.
Profile Image for vania vela.
191 reviews3 followers
August 8, 2021
“I’m tired of being evil,”Kjari said, before Ico could lash out again. “Tired of being the monster human children fear before they go to bed. River has no idea what it is to fill the role I fill.”

The Beholden tells the story of Izara and Celestia, two sister who summon the Lady of the Seraphine and demands a favor. But a favor from the river goddess always comes at a cost. Years later, rumors of war and disease are spreading, and the Lady of the Seraphine is back to collect her due; together, they must repay their debt to the Lady—embarking on a mission that will put them on a collision course with a god even more powerful than her.

The cover of this book is just beautiful. From the colors to the drawings, all the elements combine perfectly. It fascinated me from the moment I saw it for the first time.

The characters are unique in their own way. I really liked the way each of them brings something important to the plot. The sister relationship between Izara and Celestia is very real. They can get angry with each other and disagree on certain issues, but they always have unconditional love for each other.

The elements of magic seemed incredible to me. The concept of gods and diseases was very creative in my opinion. The combination of magic with the characters, and how it helps them on their journey is fascinating.

The descriptions are also very detailed and I liked that too much. I was able to imagine each place and setting in a detailed way and that allowed me to read the story more realistically.

It was a book that I enjoyed.It is a plot driven book, so it is a bit more difficult to read if you are used to read character driven books. Still, it is very enjoyable.

I am grateful to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this ARC. It is simply wonderful. I hope I can buy a physical copy very soon :)
Profile Image for Brie.
164 reviews3 followers
October 4, 2021
Dear Readers, Aliens and Creatures, what a delicious tropical rainforest fantasy - The Beholden - is. I have never read anything quite like it! A tale of mortals, gods, demi-gods and unholy creatures. 😍

Official title: The Beholden
My title: Spoiled Gods
Author: Cassandra Rose Clarke
Publisher: Erewhon
Fav characters: Omaira, Taja snd Decay
Type: Book

There is an overall eeriness to this story that follows four people, one being and three gods on a journey to solve a problem which started 500 years ago. Spoiled Gods! Luds! 👼🏾

Izara and Celestia are titled ladies, with no skills of land management, whose estate is about to crumble. They have little left besides Celestia’s intriguing looks and Izara’s magic… so, NATURALLY, Celestia must find a husband capable of tending to the land… 🤦 and it all goes to hell. Over a man. 💁🤦🥲

The girls summon the Lady of the Seraphine, a goddess amused enough by them to grant them the husband they seek, but they AND the poor random ex-pirate trying to go straight Ico, are Beholden. Whenever the goddess comes calling, they must answer.

Five years later, with no sense of timing, or understanding that a husband really doesn’t seem to be worth all the stress 🙈, Taja summons them. Izara is at the Academy, a school of magic that if she leaves she can never return to; Celestia is happy and FINALLY pregnant for the husband she was given; Ico has shacked up with the Lady of the Snow, goddess, and is living his best life… but Taja doesn’t care… she has a simple task for them:

Find and bring a dangerous god who everyone fears and who wishes to stay hidden, to her…
Easy Peasy… 😬

I loved this book. I recommend it to those who love eerie stories, long adventures, who have sisters and who believe pregnant women can’t get things done! 🤣
Profile Image for Dani Cox.
78 reviews2 followers
January 24, 2022
The Beholden is an epic adventure for all fantasy lovers.

Celestia and Izara De Malena are land rich but destitute. To save their family acreage, they call upon an the river goddess, the Lady of the Seraphine, for a favour. A rich and kind husband for Celestia...but magic and favours from the river goddess always come with a price.

Enter the current timeline five years later, and Celestia and Izara's land is abundant. Izara is studying magic and Celesia is happy with her husband and expecting a child.

However, with rumours of war and a strange disease spreading throughout the lands, they are called upon to return the favour to the Lady of the Serephine. To embark on a dangerous mission that pits them against the Emperor, Celestia's husband, and a god more powerful than the Lady of the Serephine.

This is set in a world that is richly developed. We journey with these sisters as they travel throughout the lands, from lush rainforests to desolate deserts, each brought to life by Clarke's writing.

Just as rich as the world building is the character development. The relationship between the sisters is endearing and lovingly brought to life. When you add the snarky and sometimes downright grumpy Ico, their travelling companion, into the mix, it creates both tension and humour. You thoroughly enjoy watching these three bicker and blunder through their mission for the Lady.

Later in the story, you encounter Omaira, another richly developed character who you can't help but like from the off.

Full of adventures, magic, mayhem, and characters you are certain to bond with, this is a must read for any fantasy genre fan.

Profile Image for Gabrielle Mathieu.
Author 7 books50 followers
May 30, 2022
My interview with Cassandra Rose is now posted on the NBN network in fantasy:
Two impoverished sisters, one with magical gifts and one with ladylike manners and pretty dresses, brave the wilds of the jungle to find the River Goddess and compel her to grant them a boon. They’re accompanied by a former pirate, Ico, who is hired to protect them. But wishes are never granted for free.

Years later, Celestia’s wish has come true. She’s happily married to a renowned former adventurer, Lindon, who had the money to save her family’s planation, and the know-how to make it thrive. Celestia is content with the resumption of her privileged life, and her long-desired pregnancy. Her sister Izara is studying magic at the secret Academy, now that her duty to her sister and the plantation is done. As for Ico, he’s cavorting with a beautiful and lusty Goddess in her ice palace. Life just can’t stay so good. The River Goddess has not forgotten, and now she has a perilous quest she demands of the three.

A dark Mage, long presumed gone from this world, is making his presence known. There are disturbing rumors from the far north of corpses that cannot rest but continue to walk as if alive. The alarming news causes the Emperor to command Celestia’s husband, the former adventurer, to join a party to hunt down the Mage and destroy him. The River Goddess has other plans. She wants the Mage brought to her safely. Celestia and her husband Lindon now find themselves on opposite sides, each a pawn of a greater force. Can their marriage survive the struggle? Can Celestia and Izara, two very different people, work together as a team with the unwilling former pirate, Ico? Only the end of the journey will reveal those answers.
Profile Image for Halie.
189 reviews2 followers
January 31, 2022
~Thank you NetGalley and Elehowen books for allowing me to receive an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!~

3.5 Stars
*The premise of this book really enticed me and the blurb caught my interest in a sentence. It was a solid book, but I did expect something different.

*The blurb made the plot sound extremely interesting and I felt it did meet my expectations. I liked the journey and adventure aspect and I felt it moved along at a proper pace that fit the story. The debt due to the goddess was also a unique plot point to build off and I liked how she contributed to a lot of the action being pushed forwards.

*I liked the character's motives and how each of them interact. I did feel there was a lack of development as I was not able to really get attached to them or feel for the characters. The river goddess felt the most enticing but that's probably due to the shroud of mystery around her, not necessarily her actions.

*The concept of worldbuilding seemed really good in this story but I was let down a little bit by the lack of it. The scenery and everything were super well-written and I loved learning the new locations and about the empire the character's lived in. I still felt a little disconnected and I am still working out why, if I figure it out I will amend this statement.

*I did like the book. its solid and has a good foundation, I just think some changes could have been made to fix the disconnect I've heard be commonly felt while reading this book.
Profile Image for Wanisha (theemptybookshelves) .
78 reviews4 followers
September 7, 2021
Lets take a few seconds and look at the amazing cover of this book!
I really like this book. The characters were so good and real. Like it kind of felt that I knew them from real life. And I could easily relate to them.

Elements in the book that I enjoyed: the magic, the bargain, the mission to save the world. These are the qualities that I look for in a book. However the writing style was a bit meh for me. But that's just me.

Short outline of the book:
This book starts with four people travelling on the river (two ladies and two men).
The two ladies (Celestia and Izara) are travelling to meet a goddess named the lady of the Seraphine. Their travel guide Ico unwillingly joined them to meet the goddess. The reason was to make a bargain, Celestia wants to marry a rich man to build up their land and to pay for Izara study fees at the mages academy. But with the bargain came a cost and that was that they are beholden to the lady, even the poor guide Ico got trapped into it. The goddess fulfilled their wishes!
A few years later, it was time for the other party to fulfil their part of the bargain. The lady of Seraphine called the three of them to go on a dangerous mission to save the land.

Trust me the last part of the book is the best!!!! This book has a solid beginning and solid ending.

Thank you so much Netgalley for this amazing opportunity.
Profile Image for Fordith.
108 reviews2 followers
August 22, 2021
What initially drew me to this book was the stunning cover, it is a gorgeous piece of artwork. Then I read the blurb and I thought ‘this is right up my street!’

I saw some reviews before I started and that was a bad idea because I went into this with a ‘hmm not sure if I will like this actually’ thought process. They said the changing POVs were sudden and confusing but I was able to follow the story fine so this may be personal preference.

The story follows three people on their quest to fulfil a promise made to a god in order to receive a favour. I I is an ex-pirate and a dab hand at adventuring, Izara is a mage in training and Celestia is a noble woman who is the classic fish out of water.

I liked the dynamics between the three MC and thought they played well off each other, with their own strengths/weaknesses.

The writing style, whilst being very descriptive, is a little flowery and I think there were some parts that could have been taken out. There were big chunks of story where nothing happened (and the characters said as much).

Once I got stuck into the story I did find myself enjoying it but not sure if I would reread this or come back for a sequel.
Profile Image for Rese H.
66 reviews2 followers
November 5, 2021
THE BEHOLDEN sucked me in on page one with its dreamy setting on the Seraphine River. I loved the whole vibe of the book, it was like being guided through a dream with beautiful imagery and prose.

Written in 3rd person multi-POV, we follow Celestia, Izara, and Ico on their quest to fulfill their debt to the Lady of the Seraphine. The plot is solid, the stakes are clear. The vivid worldbuilding transports readers from the banks of the Seraphine, to mountain peaks to a frigid desert. The are a few magic systems at play between the Airiana, the Laniana, the Aetheric Realm and alchemy. I never fully grasped the magic system’s rules, powers or limitations. I was wondering if this was intentional since Izara left the academy before she could master the magical arts. Since she was the magic wielder, the reader was left with her understanding…maybe?

If you love slower paced books (inevitable with three POV’s), epic quests, deals with gods, and multiple magic systems, then you will love THE BEHOLDEN!

I received a free e-ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4.5/5 rounded up to 5
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