Olivia is a sixteen-year-old Vestal Virgin, a happy devotee of her beloved goddess Vesta in her home nation of Parcae. But when her faith in Vesta is shaken, Olivia illegally experiments with her own divine power, making a discovery that could save her country from war – if she’s brave enough to share it.
After an accidental revelation proves Vesta is fake, Olivia and her fellow Virgins are tempted by a charismatic academy boy, Cassius, to invoke the real gods. Although they risk death if they are discovered, Olivia and her friends test their skills in secret experiments. But their games take an unexpected turn when flighty blonde Lucia reveals surprisingly deadly powers.
Gaius, a brilliant military student, must protect the girls and plan for war against an enemy nation while ignoring his growing attachment to Olivia. As a Vestal Virgin she has taken a holy vow of chastity, and the consequences of breaking it are severe…
I received this book from the author in exchange for this honest review.
The plot is fairly simple, with a crisis of faith coming in the early chapters. Apparently the flame of Vesta is encouraged to burn with the addition of lamp oil. This upsets Olivia, and her friends Cassius and Gaius try to soothe her mind. One of the things they do is get her involved in a secret project: invoking the gods (which is illegal for women) to make plants grow taller. Lucia, Olivia’s schoolmate, proves to be a natural, and this sets the course for the girls to help aid the army against invaders. There is family drama, teenage crushes, and lots of chatter between Oliva, Lucia, and Marta, a third classmate who seems to be cranky all of the time.
The writing is wonderfully descriptive, with details like clothing and living arrangements artfully detailed. Conversations between the teenagers sound correct, and Olivia’s crisis of faith is handled well. The only thing I had an issue with, and it may be my own, is manipulating my mindset to believe that these girls could summon up gods like Neptune and Diana to do their bidding. There is plenty of Latin phrases and some animal sacrifices as well, (no gore!) to set the tone, but I did have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that some of the girls could do it and the men could not. There is much talk of “summoning the gods” by the men, but no information on whether it worked every time or not.
The three Vestal Virgins discover more about themselves and their character as their country goes to war and they come under fire for being allowed to develop power and independence. I did like the fact that there were strong female characters that didn’t have their head in the clouds all the time, dreaming about a husband. Heck–these girls are VIRGINS–there’s no way for them to even GET a husband without being “bought out” of the cult of Vesta; and the price is so high that it almost never happens.
There are a few twists at the end, and I was encouraged to find that the girls weren’t content to put their head back in the sand once the war came to an end. I’d love to read more about Olivia and Lucia. Their friendship grew stronger as the book went on, and by the end, all five characters were tightly bonded. The author could definitely make this a series, bringing some of the lesser characters to the front so we could learn more about them. Perhaps a prequel with a backstory of Olivia and her brother might be in order.
If you are a YA fan that also loves an ancient Roman setting, you will delight in this easy and uplifting read. Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.