Today I am delighted to be taking a break from NaNoWriMo to share my review for the FABULOUS Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara Rutherford. It’s deep, imaginative, and filled with fantastic worlds with a touch of mystery and magic. If you’re in the mood for some wonderful YA to transport you to sunshine and oceans on a gloomy winter day, and then take you on a fantastic and consuming ride, this baby will surely do the trick!
Title: Crown of Coral and Pearl
Author: Mara Rutehrford
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Publication Date: August 27, 2019
Genre: YA Fantasy, YA Fiction
Themes: Family, Arranged Marriage, Oppression, Rebellion
My Rating: 4.5/ 5
For generations, the princes of Ilara have married the most beautiful maidens from the ocean village of Varenia. But though every girl longs to be chosen as the next princess, the cost of becoming royalty is higher than any of them could ever imagine…
Nor once dreamed of seeing the wondrous wealth and beauty of Ilara, the kingdom that’s ruled her village for as long as anyone can remember. But when a childhood accident left her with a permanent scar, it became clear that her identical twin sister, Zadie, would likely be chosen to marry the Crown Prince—while Nor remained behind, unable to ever set foot on land.
Then Zadie is gravely injured, and Nor is sent to Ilara in her place. To Nor’s dismay, her future husband, Prince Ceren, is as forbidding and cold as his home—a castle carved into a mountain and devoid of sunlight. And as she grows closer to Ceren’s brother, the charming Prince Talin, Nor uncovers startling truths about a failing royal bloodline, a murdered queen… and a plot to destroy the home she was once so eager to leave.
In order to save her people, Nor must learn to negotiate the treacherous protocols of a court where lies reign and obsession rules. But discovering her own formidable strength may be the one move that costs her everything: the crown, Varenia and Zadie.
The people of Varenia live a unique life in stilt houses built from shipwrecks on shoals above the sea. They value family, honour, and beauty amongst all else, and whoever their ruling nation of Ilara has a crown prince come of age the Varenians offer their most beautiful daughter as the future queen.
But this idyllic life is not as simple as it seems. The oceans have been overfished and the oysters, which produce the coveted Varenian pink pearls that support this community, have been grossly over harvested. Both food and funds are in short supply, and this isolated community is regularly cut off from fresh water and essential supplies at the slightest whim on the Varenian King.
So when the chosen bride Zadie harms herself to avoid being sent to Ilara as future queen, it falls to her twin sister Nor to take her place. But instead of being a pliant and pleasing bride Nor has other plans in mind such as advocating for her people, clandestine meetings with Governors sons, and a touch of ill-conceived spying within the castle. And to make matters even more complicated, Nor has to do everything in her power to conceal the truth behind Varenian health, long life, and healing abilities of her people lest it be exploited the ailing Ilarians. And all the while she is exploring the source of her own powers and their apparent connection to an accident involving deadly blood coral when she was just a child. Can we say drama?
But things go awry when the Crown Prince Ceren proves to be a cruel and calculating ruler, more focused on pursuits of vanity and tormenting his subjects than than improving the standing of his people – despite an impending war. Nor must learn to tread carefully in his presence, and fast, for if it’s discovered that she replaced her sister Zadie she is sure to meet a fate worse than rejection. And here’s the trump card my friends, Nor finds herself dangerously attracted to Ceren’s half brother Prince Talin. Because who doesn’t love a good romantic battle between brothers who represent good and evil?
It is a bad thing to say that what i loved most about this book was that nor was like like a fish out of water? She doesn’t fit into court life, she’s too impetuous to make for a very good lady, and she never takes the easy way out – even when huge personal benefit stands in the balance. She adheres strongly to her Varenian morals, saving the lives of even those who would hurt her and offering kindness to all when cruelty serves as currency within the Ilaran castle. She is brave, and at times incredibly foolish, but those moments in which Nor took those ridiculous risks were among my absolute favourites.
The brothers too, were extremely interesting. They were perfect foils for one another as well as for the relationship between Nor and Zadie. Where the sisters represented love and loyalty, the brothers emanate complicated toxicity. While the brother’s certainly added different elements to the narrative, with Ceren bringing in fear and tension while Talin offered romance and longing, they never pull too much attention away from Nor and her objectives.
It was interesting to see the types, and degrees of prominence, of the roles assigned to parents in this book. Zadie & Nor’s parents took on a dynamic similar to that of Mr. & Mrs. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, with a doting and on-confrontational father and a mother determined to see her daughters wed advantageously. Both the Governor and the King are particularly absent in their parenting duties, and overall presence, though they are much talked and thought about by their children. And we even have a does of the manipulating stepmother waiting to make a play. And while I really enjoyed what they brought to the story, I really would have liked to see all of the adult characters developed into roles beyond mealtimes and deathbeds. Don’t get me wrong, the focus stays on Nor where it firmly belongs, I just wanted a little more. But, with a book two on the horizon, and so much fantastic world building already under way, I have no doubt that this particular scenario is about the change.
Filled with strong characters, tantalizing events, some super steamy romance, as well as distinct peoples and places A Crown of Coral and Pearl transports you into a world that is entirely it’s own. Rutherford’s writing is deep and imaginative, and her debut lays a solid foundation for what is sure to be an exciting series. I can’t wait to see what twists come next in the Ilarian fight for succession, in Zadie & Nor’s fight to save their homeland and loved ones, and whether or not everyone will make it out the other side of what appears to be an impending civil war. Oh, and I REALLY need to know more about Nor’s strength and power, the properties of the blood coral, and those damnable pink pearls! Way to leave off on a cliffhanger, because now I’m into this series hook, line, and sinker.
Many thanks to NatGalley for providing a galley in exchange for an honest review.