Marie Victoria- the princess. When we first meet her she is pale and sick all the time. We learn that she is going to be married off to Leo from Prussia. She was friends with Leo’s brother Wolf when they were younger. She is best friends with Aelwyn. She is not a spoiled princess; she is a very likable character.
Leo – one of the princes from Prussia. He beat the English into a truce in a key battle by opening Pandora’s Box. He and his brother are very different. He is not the nicest person. And, turns out he is only part prince – which is revealed in the end. He is having an affair with Isabelle when we meet him (and she gave him the Box as well) and we learn that he will be wed off to Marie.
Isabelle of Orleans- a former princess. She was a princess until England ousted France. She is having an affair with Leo. She lives with her cosigns Louis and Hugh. She ends up being in love with Louis after the duel but Hugh kills Louis and kidnaps Isabelle because he wants her for himself.
Ronan – the daughter of the governor of NY. Her family has lost its entire fortune and is betting on her landing a good match to renew their status and wealth. But she is independent and doesn’t really want to go through with it, but she will. On the boat crossing the pond to attend the Ball she meets Wolf even though he doesn’t tell her who he is, and they fall in love. But while she wants to accept his proposal she doesn’t because of her obligation to her family, since she thinks he is poor.
Wolf – the second prince from Prussia. He is a playboy, but not really. He was in America at the start of the story and is headed back to England for the Ball where his brother’s engagement to Marie will be announced. He is a nice guy and he falls for Ronan. He was friends with Marie when they were little. Ends up that he biomes engaged to Marie after Leo is killed in a duel.
Gill – a young man and member of the Queen’s guard. He protects Marie and he and Marie are in love.
Aelwyn – a very powerful magician. She is The Merlin’s daughter. She set a fire some time ago and was sent to Avalon (she had set a fire that was at Marie’s insistence). She is at the beginning headed back to London. She and Marie are best friends. She is torn though because she always thought she would make a good princess. But she is very powerful – she has the ability to look like other people.
The Queen – Eleanor. She is 150 years old. Presumably being kept alive by magic. Everyone but Marie can see through the glamour that makes her look young and beautiful to the rest of the kingdom. She doesn’t spend much time with her daughter but she is grooming her daughter to be Queen. She arranges for a marriage between Marie and the prince from Prussia. She is very close with the Merlin.
The Merlin – Emry. Aelwyn’s father. The magician behind the crown. The most powerful magician in the Franco-British empire.
Locations: NY, London, a cruise ship crossing the Atlantic and a few other European places which aren’t seen for long.
Main Premise: In an alternate version of history, set in 19th century London, where the English have conquered the world, the American Revolution failed and the French royal family has been ousted by the English. The Queen of England is 150 years old and magic plays a role in the world. Mages are rare and greatly desired. Magic is highly valued by the aristocracy as a way to get what they want.
Aelwyn, after four years of semi-banishment from court returns from Avalon. She and Marie go almost instantly back to being best friends. But Aelwyn has always felt that she would be a great princess. And Marie doesn’t really like being a princess as her time is never her own, she is always being groomed to take over the throne and she has fallen in love with one of her guards.
There is a lot of to-do about the upcoming ball. It will officially announce the arranged marriage between Marie and Leo, the crown prince of Prussia. Ronan is looking to find a husband and her introduction to society has been arranged by a friend of her mothers. The plan for her is to find a rich husband to reduce her family from their financial troubles. And, Aelwyn has returned to London. Her father is grooming her to become the next Morgaine.
After much (and I do mean much) introduction to all the main characters listed above, the main plot point is a scheme by Marie and Aelwyn to use Aelwyn’s powers to let Marie and Gill run away together and have Aelwyn become Marie, and princess. But all goes horribly wrong. The test, at the ball goes well. It seems that no one catches on. And Aelwyn likes Leo. Leo ditches Isabel and Isabel hooks up with one of her cousins. But, on the night when Marie and Gill are to run away forever and catch the boat to America, Leo is almost killed in a duel with Louis. Marie smells something that she has smelled before (when Aelwyn set the fire) and she realizes that someone has sent a trap to the castle and intends to burn the castle down. Marie then also realizes she needs to do what is best for her subjects and country and she abandons Gill to return to the palace. Aelwyn too realizes that she can’t take over for the princess and she destroys the illusion stone used to make the glamour. And the trap was set by Leo. Leo ends up dying anyway. But we learn that Loe was a sorcerer and Lord Hartwig was a hidden mage and his father. Which means that Leo wasn’t the real prince – Hartwig was a French warlock not a Prussian. And Aelwyn knew it because Leo used Pandor’a box and only a mage could do that. So, Aelwyn made sure that the bullet in the duel hit its mark. And Aelwyn’s father was poisoning Marie for years making her sick. Wolf then can’t go through with marrying Ronan because he needs to marry Marie. We end with the relationships all ending with none of the paris who love each other together. Pandora’s Box was really a necklace with a powerful stone.
Other Important Things to Remember for Later: The author presents things as if that’s not terrible for Marie and Wolf as they are really good friends even though they love other people. Turns out that The Merlin and the Queen knew all about everything and let it happen as a test to Marie and Aelwyn. Aelwyn becomes The Morgaine. Her father tells her that some of the power The Merlin/Morgaine has is choosing the next ruler and Aelwyn did that when she chose to not go through with Marie’s plan thereby choosing Marie as the next Queen. Aelwyn can also separate people from their souls. Isabelle has been kidnapped by Hugh after Hugh killed Louis (because Louis and Isabelle were going off to get married and live together) although we are presented with a rumor that she is alive and well living by the seaside. Isabelle is pregnant but we don’t know if the baby is Loe’s or Hugh’s. Ronan is friends with Wolf and is a secretary to her rich American heiress who had just married an Italian count and she was starting her own millinery shop. The Queen and The Merlin will die soon. Marie and Aelwyn are half-sisters, sharing the same mother. Marie and Wolf are married.
I feel like all the books I have read lately are books that, once finished, have been such disappointment. 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.
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, 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.