I was so close to giving this book 1 star because I started to dislike it so much towards the end. But no, I reserve one star for books that have horrid sentence structure, improper grammar, and just poor story-crafting skills. This book has no issues in terms of those three things.
However, I did not like this book. It was okay, but I can't say I liked it. The plot was too contrived. I was not engaged. The mystery and intrigue about the artifact wasn't interesting enough - I didn't care about it, why should I? She gave me no reason to care if we found it or not, other than that was their purpose. There wasn't enough importance to Cybele. Who cares? There was no reason to. It didn't affect any character at all. Poor motivation for the entire plotline of the story.
The characters were okay, but rather bland. There was no twist or turn to their personality. Of course Paula is a scholar and she proves it. Stoyan: of course he has depths and a intuitive mind, rather than just being a muscled body-guard. Of course Duarte is more than just the rakish pirate. It bores me to death. There was no spark in any of their interaction. Paual's voice wasn't exceptional either. It really almost just felt like Jena's except with a more scholarly take.
I think Marillier is weakest in dialogue. The words feel fake, the interactions don't seem real. There is no hidden intention or subtlety. Every character says exactly what is on their mind. It gives everything a very 2-D feel. The romance was too obvious. I felt like there was no spark between the characters. There is no tension, no tug or push and pull. It was just... boring.
I also figured out the big reveal very early on as well, which made the story infinitely more boring.
The father character was worthless except as a prop and an excuse to get Paula to Istanbul.
The tasks are ridiculous, just like Wildwood Dancing. There is no purpose to them beyond that fairy tales have them and they are expected. It is too easy to get past these stupid tests.
It is like Marillier has a preconceived notion of what should happen in a fairy tale novel and just inserts in random tasks and challenges just so. It says it tests for courage and faith and all that crap, but honestly? Not really. The characters breeze through the tests and trials in mere paragraphs. Ugh.
The ending sucked. What a disappointment. It's also like Marillier crams all the romance into the last 1/8 of the book. Everything is resolved except the romance. It pisses me off, really. It makes things so much more annoying when a book ends on finding "true love" when the entire book wasn't even really about true love. And why the heck do these strong women always waste away from true love? It's like it's a necessity in her books. Ugh.
I had to push through to finish - I almost wanted to drop the book halfway.
What I do like... the world building. She writes the backdrop of the story well. You can see the marketplace, the baths, the library. It's barely enough for me to hang on.
1.75 stars if that's possible? I guess 2 stars because I'm not really on a 0.25 scale. Recommended for people who read Wildwood Dancing and really want to finish the series. Not recommended for people who want a gripping book. Sorry if you are both types.