Author : Mara Rutherford
Published By : Inkyard Press
Year Published : August 27th, 2019
Genre / Tags : YA, Fantasy, Drama, Romance, Adventure
Mood : Everything
Formats : Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook
# of Pages : 432 pages (Hardcover)
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.
Many thanks to Netgalley for providing me an e-ARC of this title for the purpose of review. I adored this book and eagerly look forward to other works by this author or other installments in this series. I was up well into the night reading this long after my brain was saying “Kitty, go to sleep.” There was always some new little detail I wanted to know about and follow through on and the writing was very immersive and of noteworthy quality among YA fantasy. Only the romance (which isn’t a massive part of the story) didn’t click with me.
The world building and court drama was detailed enough to give real texture and provide a context for the proceedings, but not info-dumpy. Another reason for my high rating is that I typically dislike dramas of the court and find them frequently tedious, yet the handling of it here had me hanging on every word.
The heroine, Nor, is a largely enjoyable character. She’s strong, adventurous, and not afraid to go sneaking across dark corridors and down hidden pathways of a mysterious castle to figure out secrets.
I notice the story seems to have different phases. The first phase being about Nor, her family, and the island village of her people. Nor’s bond with her twin sister is a stand-out aspect here. I felt a mounting excitement as Nor gets ever closer to being free to explore a new setting.
The second phase takes place in that new setting- a castle in the mountains, a kingdom full of treachery. There is an air of mystery to the proceedings here. New characters seem to be hiding information pertaining to her homeland, and Nor is trying to figure out what’s really going on as quickly as possible but with subtlety.
What I consider the third phase is when everything is out in the open- the goals of enemies (or just one enemy?) and allies alike, and things get more fast in pace (though the book was always quite fast-moving, I felt.) There are some decent action sequences and Nor is fairly and unexpectedly skilled at combat. The romance is also given some opportunity to blossom.
I found Nor’s love interest, Talin, to be bland. Almost no flavor to the guy. His moments with Nor and the dialogue therein were always very predictable and by-the-book. Their little romance held no interest for me.
Prince Ceren, awful creature that he is, was much more interesting and the mental sparring and struggles between he and Nor were entertaining and tense to read about. I wouldn’t mind if he could have some continuing role in the series as there was some depth of intrigue there. An evil character for sure, but seeing a desperate villain, a villain who comes off as hapless and doomed? I love the uniqueness of that, so in my book he stands out as far as villains go.
Super unpopular opinion- I was actually shipping him with Nor for some time, though he ended up crossing too many lines and is unforgivably problematic. I wish he’d been more restrained as it could have been a (here comes another unpopular opinion) fun love triangle. Most unpopular opinion of all time incoming- I would totally be up for more confrontations or interactions between them, were the opportunity to somehow present itself.
The ending leaves a lot of room for future growth but it also provided clean enough closure. To my understanding, there will be a sequel that continues to follow the sisters. I’m interested in it, but would probably prefer a fresh cast building upon the groundwork of this setting. Overall, a very solid read and I was hooked from beginning to end.
Overall Rating – 10/10
Why You Should Try It – The characters left a strong impression. Great, smart heroine. Vividly realized side characters, though few in number. An evil villain that I want to see defeated yet also wanted to see survive to bring the drama, in equal measure. The world is developed enough to feel real and interesting, yet not at all info-dumpy. Fast-paced. A pull-an-all-nighter read. I just clicked with it, perfectly. Appropriate for most ages.
Why You Might Not Like It – If you need romance in your YA fantasy there is little of that. Nor makes many good decisions but a few poorer ones near the end. Ceren and his constant evil plots might be maddening for some.
Thanks so much for reading my review! Have you read Crown of Coral and Pearl or have any thoughts on it? Are you interested in reading it? I appreciate all of your thoughts.
^ That’s my proper review that I posted on Netgalley and Goodreads for this title. But since a personal blog allows for a bit more space to get silly, I’m going to go into a bit more opinions and my hopes for the sequel. Still going for spoiler-free.
– I love the sisterly bond between Nor and Zadie and realize now that there aren’t a ton of books about identical twins and I need to find more! Love how different these two are from one another. Getting the sense that Zadie doesn’t get to do much (she had to focus on her beauty and have the trajectory of her life all planned out) I hope that she gets to do more in the sequel. She doesn’t have to become a warrior princess like Nor, but I hope she gets more opportunities to assert herself and accomplish more outside of her ‘role’. Would be cool to see her perspective too.
– I am a hardcore enemies-to-lovers fan, probably in need of an intervention tbh. I tried to downplay it but I was into Ceren. Wouldn’t ship them after all he’s done, but would like to see Nor and Ceren have more confrontations, interactions, DRAMA, and wouldn’t be against a redemption arc. I know the redemption arcs are tired in general, and given that this is YA there is the issue of romanticizing problematic characters. I don’t think the author romanticized Ceren at all and would probably be able to handle things capably (if) he has a role in the second book.
– Talin is so bland. I blame him for my misguided amusement with Ceren. He feels very basic build-a-boyfriend, face one sim, AI could have produced him. Don’t get me wrong, I loved this author’s writing style and this title is definitely on the higher side of quality among the YA Fantasy I’ve read. But watching Talin be boringly perfect might be a drag in the sequel. Not sure what can be done to fix him, as I’ve seen perfect characters be interesting before (Leigh Bardugo’s Nikolai comes to mind.)