Friday, April 4, 2014

Review: The Ring and the Crown by Melissa de la Cruz

Release date: April 1, 2014
Author info: Website | Twitter | Facebook
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher provided for review
Buy the book: Barnes & Noble | Amazon | The Book Depository
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? 

Quiet and gentle, Marie has never lived up to the ambitions of her mother, Queen Eleanor the Second, Supreme Ruler of the Franco-British Empire. With the help of her Head Merlin, Emrys, Eleanor has maintained her stranglehold on the world's only source of magic. She rules the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. 

But even with the aid of Emrys' magic, Eleanor's extended lifespan is nearing its end. The princess must marry and produce an heir or the Empire will be vulnerable to its greatest enemy, Prussia. The two kingdoms must unite to end the war, and the only solution is a match between Marie and Prince Leopold VII, heir to the Prussian throne. But Marie has always loved Gill, her childhood friend and soldier of the Queen's Guard. 

Together, Marie and Aelwyn, a powerful magician in her own right, come up with a plan. Aelwyn will take on Marie's face, allowing the princess to escape with Gill and live the quiet life she's always wanted. And Aelwyn will get what she's always dreamed of--the chance to rule. But the court intrigue and hunger for power in Lenoran England run deeper than anyone could imagine. In the end, there is only rule that matters in Eleanor's court: trust no one.
I've been looking forward to The Ring and the Crown for a long time--and how could I not, with that gorgeous cover and awesome-sounding synopsis? After finishing the book, though, I wonder if my expectations were unrealistic. I have to preface the rest of this review and say that I did enjoy reading the book, because much of this review is negatives. I think that comes from a place of disappointment more than anything, because there's so much potential in the idea behind the book and in the characters, but it delivers something with much less impact than it could have had.

While the synopsis seems to promise a lot of magic and a (semi high) fantasy setup, that's not really what you get, but instead you're given something more like alternate historical fiction, with a sprinkling of fantasy, that is more dominated by romantic entanglements than anything else. And this isn't to say that's a terribly bad thing or something people won't enjoy--because I think they will--but it's just not what I was hoping for or really wanted to read. I was hoping for a focus on the fantastic elements and the political intrigue, which never really happened, except in little snippets at the end.

What I think The Ring and the Crown has going for it, though, are two things: the characters and Melissa de la Cruz's apparent willingness to kill her characters, likable and unlikable alike. The characters that we follow all come off as appealing characters who are drawn pretty fully. What stinks, though, is that because there are so many points of view, we don't see nearly enough of them, both to get to know them and to see much development. Aelwyn, for instance, seemed to disappear for large chunks of the book, only to pop up in one chapter and then disappear again for a long time while others are around constantly--even though she is touted as a main character in the synopsis. With this, I never felt like I got a great handle on anyone. We're too busy flitting back and forth from one person to another to ever really get a good look inside one's head, though I really wanted to.

I may be in the minority, but I love when authors are fearless in killing characters and putting others in difficult situations. Obviously, I hate to see favorite characters die, but I like that an author will follow where a story leads, even if it's not palatable to the reader. No spoilers, obviously, but I liked seeing this in a book that I'd begun to peg as completely fluffy. This applies to a few sections at the end too; they surprised me in the decision-making and direction, in the best way.

Speaking of the end, while I liked a lot of what happened at the end, I didn't like that the reveals all came out of nowhere. I'd been inside these characters heads for an entire book and gotten no idea that something weird was going on? Really? Out of the blue, they're spouting these theories they'd had. A couple of ending reveals were fine and one was something one should expect, but there were another couple that popped out of the blue. Meh. I liked the unexpected turns, I did, but I wanted there to be at least some kind of suspicion at some point previously. I didn't need to have an idea of what was going on, but the tiniest bit of suspicion would have made all the difference.

Also, please don't quote the stupidest Beyonce song in existence (this is only my opinion). I almost threw the book across the room at the first page.

While maybe it sounds like I didn't enjoy The Ring and the Crown, I truly did enjoy reading it. I liked most of the characters and found the story engaging. The writing is clear and, though sometimes anachronistic, perfectly adequate for the book. If you're a big fantasy fan, this may not be the book for you, but if you're not, this would likely be the "fantasy" book you'd like. It's fun and fluffy, but the appealing characters make you actually care about their fates, and I'll be interested to see where the series goes from here.

About the author:

Melissa de la Cruz is the New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of many critically acclaimed and award-winning novels for teens including The Au Pairs series, the Blue Bloods series, the Ashleys series, the Angels on Sunset Boulevard series and the semi-autobiographical novel Fresh off the Boat.

Her books for adults include the novel Cat’s Meow, the anthology Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys and the tongue-in-chic handbooks How to Become Famous in Two Weeks or Less and The Fashionista Files: Adventures in Four-inch heels and Faux-Pas.

Melissa grew up in Manila and moved to San Francisco with her family, where she graduated high school salutatorian from The Convent of the Sacred Heart. She majored in art history and English at Columbia University (and minored in nightclubs and shopping!)

She now divides her time between New York and Los Angeles, where she lives in the Hollywood Hills with her husband and daughter. 

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