I received a free ecopy of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Myra has always been obsessed by medieval castles and everything associated with them from royalty, chivalry, and courtly love. Her family has been trying to get her head out of the clouds and settle down with a man - after all, she is 22 and isn't in school and doesn't have a job - but she isn't really interested in anyone except long dead medieval kings, princes, and knights. When they try to set her up with Steve, an eligible bachelor from one of London's most prominent families, she grudgingly agrees to meet him. Turns out neither are interested in each other like that - Steve's gay and has been with his partner, Tyler, for several years and is keeping it all secret from his family. However, Steve's done his homework on Myra and knows she likes all that medieval stuff and he has a very intriguing business proposal for her. He works designing video games and he wants her to act as the model for the main character in his upcoming fantasy/ adventure/ mystery game. She excitedly says yes when she learns that his team has gotten permission from the government to record at Hue Castle. Hue Castle is one of the only castles in England that she's never visited and that's because it's never been open to the public, and that the government has practically made it impossible to even get a look at the place for the last two hundred years. According to legend though, Hue Castle is a cursed, haunted, and colorless place.
Once Upon A [Stolen] Time by Samreen Ahsan is quite unique and I love the concept behind it. I particularly found myself intrigued by the medieval aspect. I found myself the most interested in the mystery/ curse surrounding Hue Castle and the Hue royal bloodline. Unfortunately, this is one of those novels where I enjoyed the concept more than the overall execution of the story. There are definitely a few issues with it. I confess that I had a difficult time connecting to any of the characters and everyone is a little too flat for my liking. When it comes to Edward, the Prince from 1415 who alternates POV chapters with Myra, and Steve, there were times when I thought I must have missed something very important about the two characters. The story also could be quite repetitive - many scenes could have been trimmed down to tighten up the prose and move the plot along.
Two issues in particularly irked me the most: the language and the romance. In regards to the language, there is zero difference between reading the characters from 1415 to 2015. The language should have at least evolved a little bit over the course of 600 years, but no. If I'm not mistaken Edward actually says "what a dork" and that he's "going for a run" in his POV chapters - I didn't realize those phrases were commonly used by 15th century British royalty. [Beware Spoilers Below] Initially, I expected to be giving this novel three of five stars, but the romance angle made me knock it down to two. Steve appeared to do a heel face turn (unless I missed something) in his feelings for Myra. He starts off gay and is happily yet secretly with Tyler, then suddenly Tyler’s nowhere to be found and Steve’s getting engaged to Myra. Plus, he becomes absurdly jealous of Myra spending so much time thinking about Edward and Hue Castle. And, then there’s the ending which concludes with book one on quite a cliffhanger and Myra goes through the mirror into 1415 and actually meets Edward, the man of her dreams, and things take a turn for the worse for her real quick. Disturbingly, this is her chain of thought: “His touch on my bare skin was enough to drive me to extremes of amorousness. I wanted to lose myself in this moment. The shackles didn’t matter. The torture didn’t matter. The tower didn’t matter. What mattered was his touch on my skin” (96%, Location 3832 of 4003, Kindle ebook). This novel’s billed as “a romantic fantasy fairytale”, but I wouldn’t call it romantic at all especially after that.
Overall, Once Upon A [Stolen] Time by Samreen Ahsan has the potential to be an intriguing fairytale-esque novel that features POV chapters from characters in both 1415 and 2015. However, in the end, I much preferred the concept behind the story to the actual execution. While I liked the medieval elements and the creepy mystery surrounding the castle, I wasn’t a fan of the cast of characters, the language, and the romance. Thanks again to the author for providing me with a free ecopy of this novel.
I read this ARC from March 2 - 5, 2017 and my review is also on Goodreads.