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Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Ring and the Crown by Melissa de la Cruz

The book's synopsis opens with "Princess Marie-Victoria, heir to the Lily Throne, and Aelwyn Myrddn, bastard daughter of the Mage of England, grew up together.  But who will rule, and who will serve?"  Y'all, let me tell you that this book is so much richer than that!  I have a habit of jumping into books "sight unseen" (without reading the synopsis), and I'm so glad I did that with this book.  From that opening line, the synopsis gets a little muddy, before circling back around to Marie-Victoria and Aelwyn's plot to switch places.  That is a (cool but) quite minor part of the story.  Rather, this is a book of political intrigue, magic, alternate history, and courtships.

Told from multiple points of view, the reader gets a very good view of the politics of the time.  The Ring and the Crown is set in an alternate early 1900s England during the Season.  (We all know about the Season from Downton Abbey, right?)  There's lots of balls and dresses and social mores that must be followed.  I always find it slightly ironic how many societal rules there are to follow while the people involved are unabashedly chasing potential spouses.  It's a romantic free-for-all, where people follow all kinds of unwritten rules about who gets invited to which party and which people are allowed to dance with each other or visit each other, all while discussing others' financial statuses in detail behind their backs, jockeying for the best match:  most good-looking + most rich.  No matter how silly the customs of the times seem to us now (I might not be married if I wasn't allowed to approach a man!  The hubby is a bit shy, and I approached him first), I do relish the descriptions of the dresses and the balls.  I would go to one in a heartbeat if anyone offered me a time machine ride!

The Season described in The Ring and the Crown is amped up to eleven:  this year the Queen of England and France (they're joint kingdoms in this alternate history) has announced her daughter and only heir's engagement to the Crown Prince of Prussia.  It's a totally political arrangement; while Marie-Victoria and Leopold have known each other since childhood, they're friends and nothing more.  This marriage will tie the two ultra-powerful kingdoms together.

But there's more!  Not only are Marie-Victoria and Leopold not in love with each other, they are in love with other people.  Marie-Victoria dreams of running away with Gill, a commoner, and Leopold had to break an engagement to Isabelle (who is in turn pursued by a Duke) in order to participate in this new treaty-engagement.  Luckily, Marie-Victoria's best friend is the court magician's daughter and they make plans for her to use glamour to take Marie's place.  This is ok, because Aelwyn really likes Leopold.  To add to the romance and the who-loves-who tangle, there's also Leopold's brother, Wolfgang.  He's free to date around, since he's not the Crown Prince, and he has his eye on an American, Ronan.  That courtship can't be simple either, of course; Ronan is simultaneously pursued by two others.  Is your head spinning?  I didn't find it a struggle to keep up once I was in the story, and I did find a Goodreads review with a very helpful chart if you do get lost.

And for a final plus:  magic!  In this alternate history, magic is very real and very prevalent in Europe.  (The Americans have figured out electricity and have abandoned magic.  They're cool with it but don't use it.)  All the royals keep a powerful mage in their court to help their influence, especially with political maneuvers and battles.  I love how seamlessly Melissa de la Cruz fits magic into the story.  It never overshadows the romance; it only serves to enhance the story.

Unfortunately, I do feel compelled to point out the sheer number of "main" characters and points of views, as well as all the world-building necessary, leads to very little character development.  I finished the book very satisfied with the story, but not really feeling like I knew any of the characters too well.  Multiple sources tell me that this is the first in a series, though, so I'm sure we'll get to know the characters better in the upcoming books.

Overall, I definitely recommend!  I saw it described on Goodreads as "historical romance lite," and I think that's very accurate.  It's definitely YA, so no overly-steamy scenes but lots and lots of courtship.  And the dresses and balls!  And intrigue!  I loved it.


Tynga is a 32 years old mom of two, from Montreal, working as a lab technician in an hospital specialized in heart disease. In her free time, she enjoys reading all things Paranormal and photography.

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