I feel like all the books I have read lately are books that, once finished, have been such disappointments. The Ring and The Crown by Melissa de la Cruz fits that mold. I will note, however, there is potential. There is potential for a wonderful world and great stories. This just didn’t get us off to a great start.
First, we are in an alternate world – one where history unfolded very differently. I would have liked to know that going in. The synopsis on good reads and the author’s own website does’t mention that. How different are things? Apparently the American Revolution failed and America is still a US colony. The British also beat the French out of the French’s crown. And the British are now fighting the Prussians. So things are familiar, but very different too. And it was impossible to predict what would be alternate history and what would be set in true reality. It was a little daunting as every instance of alternate history felt like a surprise (and not always in a good way).
Then, I was promised magic. From the author’s website: “Magic is power, and power is magic…” And I had my hopes elevated early. Chapter 1 is titled “Dark Enchantress”; in that same chapter Aelwyn (will explain who she is in a little bit) borrows the soul of a little boy through magic. Awesome! And the references to Pandora’s box? Great! But… the hope were dashed when I realized that there wasn’t really going to be a lot of magic. Sure there were references to it. There were comments about using magic to help look beautiful and giving sparkles to dresses and stuff. There is mention of Pandora’ Box. And there is the glamour that Aelwyn and Marie test and plan to carry out. But there was room for so much more. But it just wasn’t there. It might not have felt like such a big deal except the build up felt so genuine.
There is a little bit of inconsistency however. Even for all the build up and expectations, the world building was a little weak. It felt like there were a ton of red herrings in details that were provided in the slow beginning but that ended up being useless details. Avalon, for instance and that Aelwyn’s aunt isn’t very well liked on Avalon. Who cares? It was a waste of words, irrelevant to this plot, and didn’t add anything the world that was being built. And that’s just one example. There were plenty.
The book starts wih an introduction to Aelwyn, a young lady magician returning to London after some time away. She was sent away because of an accident that lead to a fire whichput the princess, Marie, in danger. We meet Marie, her mother and a fairly large cast of other characters. Turns out, once we progress far enough, that the plot is about an planned magical switch where Marie could escape with her true love and Aelwyn will take her place. But things don’t go smoothly.
It’s not entirely accurate to say that the story started off slow, since the story includes the world building and set up. But finding the start of the plot which would carry us through all the action and bring the story to conclusion was difficult. It was pretty far in before the scheme of Marie’s is raised. What was just introduction and background, slowly presented to us in a fair number of chapters, takes up a large part of the book. And then, all of a sudden, in the last few chapters things move so fast you’d get whiplash trying to keep up. And while there isn’t epilogue, the last chapter feels like one. Especially with the time jump.
The plot speed issues aside, there was also some awkwardness to the writing that I don’t recall seeing in some of the other things I have read by this author. I don’t recall the first few Blue Bloods books I read being this awkward. I don’t think there is anything technically wrong with this: “she had navigated her way easily, using the tall tower spires of the castle as a guide and beacon through the crowded streets” but it was a sentence that was hard for me to read. It doesn’t flow. It stumbles through with what feels like words that are forced into the sentence. It has a square peg-round hole feeling to it. And when that couples with much better descriptions such as: “His grubby little face; the face of a young street beggar, a naughty little boy with shifty little cold blue eyes…” The inconsistency with the quality of the writing makes me question the editing or if there is a co-writer that we just aren’t aware of. It made reading this feel a little tedious.
I also wish I realized how soapy this was going to be. Here’s how my plot summary goes. Aelwyn is returning from a few years banishment to Avalon. She was sent away after setting fire to the Princess Marie’s bedroom by accident. The girls love each other like sisters. Aelwyn is a magician. The “season” is approaching and Marie’s arranged marriage is going to be announced. But, Marie is in love with Gill. Leo, the fiance is in love with Isabelle. Isabelle lives with her cousins, one of which is in love with her (and turns out he abused her) – and after a time she ends up falling for the other cousin. Wolf falls for Astor. Astor needs to find a match for financial reasons. Aelywn seems taken with Leo…. If each romance were a thread, I could make a king size sheet setting from them all.
I sometimes discuss title and/or cover. The cover is pretty, but that’s about all that is worth noting about it. and the title is presumably a reference to the chapter title of the same name where there is a discussion of how the story ends (see the page for the book if you want to know) but I think it was a weak title. If this is a start to a series, there were probably a lot of other things that would have been more appropriate titles. If it isn’t and it’s a stand alone, well, there were probably a lot of other things that would have been more appropriate titles as well.
So, I was disappointed at the end. I was disappointed in part because I had high expectations and they weren’t met. And there was, and still is, so much promise. I would love to revisit this world if I thought that some of the things I was looking forward to here were in the next story. And of course I say all this not knowing if this was the start to a series or not. Goodread calls it “#1” in a series, but I am not sure I would bet on it.