All’s unfair in love and war

Title: The Ring and The CrownCover

Author: Melissa de la Cruz

Publisher & Release Date: Hyperion, April 1

The Hook: Four girl lives’ collide in a lavish and magical London Season, with hearts and entire kingdoms in peril.

The Lowdown (from jacket): “Once they were inseparable, just two little girls playing games in a formidable castle. Now Princess Marie-Victoria, heir to the mightiest empire in the world, and Aelwyn Myrddyn, a bastard mage, face vastly different futures.

Quiet and gentle, Marie has never lived up to the ambitions of her mother, Queen Eleanor the Second. With the help of her Merlin, Eleanor has maintained a stranglehold on the world’s only source of magic. While the enchanters faithfully serve the crown, the sun will never set on the Franco-British Empire.

As the annual London Season begins, the great and noble families across the globe flaunt their wealth and magic at parties, teas, and, of course, the lavish Bal du Drap d’Or, the Ball of the Gold Cloth.

But the talk of the season is Ronan Astor, a social-climbing American with only her dazzling beauty to recommend her. Ronan is determined to make a good match to save her family’s position. But when she falls for a handsome rogue on the voyage over, her lofty plans are imperiled by her desires.

Meanwhile, Isabelle of Orleans, daughter of the displaced French royal family, finds herself cast aside by Leopold, heir to the Prussian crown, in favor of a political marriage to Marie-Victoria. Isabelle arrives in the city bent on reclaiming what is hers. But Marie doesn’t even want Leopold-she has lost her heart to a boy the future queen would never be allowed to marry.

When Marie comes to Aelwyn, desperate to escape a life without love, the girls form a perilous plan that endangers not only the entire kingdom but the fate of the monarchy.”

Overall Impressions: The combination of what was essentially a Regency romance (minus the Regent) with dark fantasy and political intrigue was a pull for me – I love both of those genres, and was eager to see where de la Cruz would take it. From the jacket flap and the snippet on the back of the book, I was expecting a serious narrative with magic, mystery and romance. Apart from a few snippets about Avalon and Merlin, there wasn’t much magic to be seen, though. About halfway through, the romantic pairings were pretty obvious and I was ready to enjoy a fluffy romance set in magical world instead. Then with about 30 pages left to go, the narrative took a huge turn into unexpected deaths and plots.

The Highs: De la Cruz spent most of her time on the characters, their lives and romances, so characterization was very well done and believable. The strength of their personalities and individual dreams carried the story beautifully… until about 30 pages from the end.

Buzzkills:

This felt like a mishmash. The major dynamic should have been between princess Marie and her mage friend Aelwyn; there was plenty to explore there, from their childhood together, to Marie’s curious health problems, to Merlin’s reasons for calling Aelwyn home and her own goals as a magician, not to mention the apparently minor issues of hostile rebel forces, systemic poverty across most of England, and the competing forces of magic and industrialization. However, much of the narrative veered away into the life and trials of Ronan (and to a lesser extent, Isabelle), which while an interesting read were not, in fact, that important to the eventual plot.

This had potential as a great magical world – the conflict between the wild magic of Avalon and the strictly controlled British mages, the lockdown on magic outside the official magicians, Aelwyn’s ability to take souls and transform people, the secret of Pandora’s box – there was some great foundation laid. And then buried under first a fluffy romance setup and then a  furious whirlwind of political plotting that was hastily resolved and ruined everyone’s lives. I’m not a believer that every book should have a happy ending, but wow.

All of the evil in this book came from men. Liars, cheats, sorcerers and molesters, most of them. Even the most annoying of the women were merely victims of circumstance. As a feminist, this bothers me.

Now that I’ve finished, the title made some sense; but it really wasn’t what this book was about at all, barring the last chapter.

The Source: Galley from a PLA conference

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor moonstones were provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

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