Harley Merlin #4 – Harley Merlin and the First Ritual by Bella Forrest

Getting back into the routine of reading and writing reviews, I thought I’d pick up the Harley Merlin series again. Truth be told I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as the series has always felt kind of off in a way. While there was a clear focus, it never felt like each book had focused on the overarching plot with the gravity it deserves. However, Harley Merlin and the First Ritual by Bella Forrest, the fourth book in the series, feels like it reigns in the main focus to the overarching plot and feels better and more exciting to read.

Character Development

A big issue with the previous two books in the Harley Merlin series (books 2 & 3) was the movement of perspective from Harley to the supporting case of characters. Tatyana’s perspective was refreshing and provided a very interesting insight to the character and still contributed to the main story. Santana’s perspective in book 3 was a bit less interesting as it wasn’t so much about her as it was about Raffe’s character through her perspective. But in book 4 we see Astrid’s perspective and it’s far more interesting and endearing than it initially appears.

Astrid turns out to be a fascinating character once more of her character is explored. There’s far more underneath her ordinary exterior and how her perspective on the events of the story shape her relationships are well developed. Whatever happens to her and her situation is still connected to the main plot of book 4 so it never feels like the momentum of the story is sacrificed for side character development.

Harley continues her own excellent character development in her wants, needs and goals. She’s proactively trying to achieve her objectives rather than only reacting to what the antagonists want. Her direct relationship with Katherine is consistently built up and definitely feels like it’s leading up to something climactic and exciting. It would be a bit more interesting to have more of a dynamic relationship between Harley and Katherine which we can only hope will be explored more in future books. Still it doesn’t deter how strong of a character that Harley is becoming.


Book 4 of the Harley Merlin series feels almost entirely focused and devoted to the main focus of the story, the ritual Katherine is trying to achieve, which makes reading every chapter feel important. Often in large series there’s chapters or subplots that focus more on character development of side characters and supporting cast that take away from the main plot. It creates a far better flow for the story as every chapter feels important and values the reader’s time.

The core plot of the story, as well as the subplots, all feel vital towards the overarching plot of the entire Harley Merlin series. The development of the characters feels substantial, the changes to the world of Harley Merlin feel important, and interestingly nuanced situations arise that I would never have previously expected. It makes for more hype generated for future novels and really values the growth of the overarching plot.


The magical world of Harley Merlin feels like it expanded more in book 4 while also diving deeper into already established ideas. This has always been kind of hit or miss in the previous books as sometimes it felt like too much too fast or not enough explanation as to what is happening or why it’s happening. But in Harley Merlin and the First Ritual really focuses on that word “ritual” and expanding upon it. The worldbuilding develops upon the already established concepts through the characters’ investigation while also allowing to introduce new characters and ideas.

The best part of this worldbuilding is that it never comes off as an exhausting exposition dump. Considering that this is a dangerous failing that a lot of fantasy or science fiction novels can fall into, the feat is quite impressive. It never detracts from the overall story or character development and actually helps to expand upon those. The characters that explain parts of the magical world do so in a way that expands and develops themselves as characters. It’s integrated in a way that flows perfectly.

Writing Style

As with the previous books in the series, Harley Merlin Book #4 is easy to pick up and read without issue. The chapters vary in length but are never so long as to feel exhausting to try and read. Word choice is sometimes questionable but the use of language to differentiate between the perspectives of Harley and Astrid. It helps to develop their characters and really pronounce who they are and what they value in how they describe or assess the situation that occurs. Hopefully this continues in the next books in the series.

The only issue is moreso in the dialogue choices throughout the book. Most of the time conversations feel organic and appropriate for the situation, however when the dialogue is used to show the youth of the characters, it feels very out of place. There’s a lot of terms used that feel more appropriate to teenagers from maybe a decade ago which unfortunately dates the book a little too much. It’s not the worst but it’s also a little strange to read.

Overall Score

P.S: Anyone familiar with my previous reviews will notice a section missing. The “What Writers can learn from this Book” section always felt lacking in my opinion. In relation to the posting schedule I want to follow, this section is going to be expanded upon to further explain the lessons we as authors can learn from the books we read. We always have opportunities to learn from our fellow writers and I feel like this is more important to expand upon. I’m hoping that by separating the two, I can focus and expand upon them in better and more meaningful ways.

I hope you all still enjoy and take something from these articles and reviews. 😊

– Raphael

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