Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Ring and The Crown (The Ring and the Crown #1) by Melissa de la Cruz

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.

“The Ring and The Crown” by Melissa De La Cruz is a novel of manners of sorts -- a fantasy tale with nuances of Pride and Prejudice”.   Early 1920s London is the hub of fashion, manners and political machinations and intrigue, as princess Marie-Victoria must choose a mate from the Prussian royal house to ensure peace in the Franco-British Empire.  The occasion also heralds “the season” which brings out all the landed, titled and those seeking the same from across the globe, hoping to secure their own marriage matches and fortunes.    

A powerful presence in this fantasy world is the Mage, a member of a sect of beings who provide counsel and magic to the royal houses.  Every monarchy has a Mage, someone gifted and trained in the order of “the Merlin, who provides the conveniences of life to the royal house which they serve -- electricity, good weather, glamours to make a sallow and sickly courtesan appear radiant, healthy and beautiful, etc.   Aelwyn, the estranged daughter of the royal mage Emrys, has also returned from exile for the season to enter the order and to reunite with Princess Marie, her childhood friend.  Together, they plot to eschew tradition so that Marie can elope with a commoner, and put an imposter in place of the princess.  A political coup and the fickle finger of Fate, however, conspire to push Marie back into her traditional role as ruler.  The book ends with Marie taking her throne in a bittersweet twist that results in her marriage to a long-time friend, and Aelwyn as her mage.  It turns out that this was fated from the beginning:  the childhood friends are actually sisters – one meant to rule, the other to serve. 

“The Ring and The Crown” was fun, but a little jumbled, with the revelations about Aelwyn and Marie being sisters coming in a rush in the last pages.  The majority of the book deals with the court appearances, dances and dinners and the accompanying tug-of-war and power plays among the young women and men seeking position and favor.  These little soap operas are peppered with enough seedy undertones (the sexual subjugation of women), however, that the story does not come off as frivolous or overly light.  However, the rushed quality of the conclusion, ultimately, does not satisfy.

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Malaika

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The old grey donkey, Eeyore stood by himself in a thistly corner of the Forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, "Why?" and sometimes he thought, "Wherefore?" and sometimes he thought, "Inasmuch as which?" and sometimes he didn't quite know what he was thinking about.

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