Title: Crown of Coral and Pearl
Author: Mara Rutherford
Series: Crown of Coral and Pearl #1
Genres: YA, Fantasy Fiction
Pub Date: 8/27/19
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.
“Sorrow is good for the soul, Father had said after the incident, when I had recovered from the pain and sickness but had still not grown used to the feel of the torn flesh on my otherwise flawless skin. “Those who have never known pain or adversity are as shallow as the waves lapping on the shore.”
“And what is wrong with being shallow?” I’d asked him.
“What lies beneath the surface of shallow waters? Nothing. It’s only when you go deeper that the ocean comes alive. The deeper you go, the more mysteries and surprises await.”
Even though I have a plethora of books on my shelves, as every reader is entitled to *Cough Cough*, I will still venture out to NetGalley to snag an arc of a book that a trusted friend raves about. Crown of Coral and Pearl wasn’t even on my radar, yet a fabulous review from Sol encouraged me to rush and request it immediately. Once approved, I started it the very same day, and I can’t begin to tell you what an excellent decision that was. Although it appears to have taken me forever to read this book, it’s only due to the fact I was on vacation at Disney World with the family, and had to sneak in every page possible around our tight schedule.
“You took two daughters who loved you and turned them into weapons to exact your revenge, never realizing that there was no enemy… Perhaps I am a weapon, a blade honed on your bitterness. And perhaps I have come to stab you in the back.”
Yes, this is the type of truth bomb that sets the scene for the first installment in the duology. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the first half of the book more than the second, even though the first part was the more predictable section. This is partially due to the fact that it’s glaringly obvious in the synopsis, but also because this is the portion that is atmospheric, world-building, and develops characters before things get going. The author’s descriptions are lush and immersive, and I couldn’t get enough of this unique place where a minority group is being held under the oppressive hand of the land lubbers, even though the people in power have a lower life expectancy, and quality of life in general. This section also features multiple grounded platonic relationships, and I adored the fact that we get an invasive look into the detailed structure of this fantastical place. There are complex dynamics in this dysfunctional family, and I am grateful that these were exposed in great detail for the reader.
“Hiding our scars doesn’t mean they’re not there. Just as beauty cannot disguise who we really are beneath the surface.”
I didn’t hate the second half of the book, but I found myself a great deal less invested once Nor leaves her community to take her sister’s place as Prince Ceren’s fiance. I feel the need to give a head’s up to the fact that there is a heavy handed insta-love situation here, and even though I’m not entirely opposed to that trope, this one felt it was created to manipulate the reader on multiple levels. From the moment both characters interact on paper, it’s clear that Talin is meant to be her love interest, and that this relationship is intended to further Ceren’s role as antagonist. Again, it wasn’t bad, but I actually found myself sympathizing more with Ceren than with either Talin or Nor during the second half of the book.
The ending was intense, exciting, and overall very satisfying, and I’m pleased that I knew going in there would be another book to give us a bit more. If you’re looking for an engaging YA fantasy with a unique setting that goes down like smooth butter, this one’s for you. I appreciate that the author tackled some tough subjects while promoting female value beyond outward appearance, and I can’t wait to see how she chooses to wrap up the storyline.
*Many thanks to the publisher for providing my review copy via NetGalley.