The Ring & The Crown is the first book in a new series by Melissa de la Cruz. Having been a fan of her Blue Bloods series I was curious what she w...more The Ring & The Crown is the first book in a new series by Melissa de la Cruz. Having been a fan of her Blue Bloods series I was curious what she would do with historic fantasy. I am very pleased to say that this book lived up to its potential. I enjoyed it from page one until the end. It’s a really great book.
That said, there’s not a lot that happens plot wise. It’s entirely character driven, so I’ll try to condense it as much as possible without spoiling it for everyone. Here we go.
In 1429 the English employed magicians to defeat the French in battle, destroying the dark witch Jeanne of Arkk. Now conquered, the English empire absorbs the French into their growing dominion. Henry VI becomes the ruler of five continents with the Merlin, a powerful, immortal magician, as his support. Now, five hundred years later at the dawn of the twentieth century, an aging Queen Eleanor II’s reign is at an end. The Queen is 150 years old and her ailing 17-year-old daughter, Marie Victoria, is poised to assume the Franco-British crown. Marie suffers from tuberculosis and many doubt that she is fit to rule.
A new season is approaching and Marie’s marriage to Leopold VII of Prussia is about to be announced. This year’s season is bound to be the best, drawing a number of ambitious nobles to court. Aelwyn, Marie’s childhood friend and bastard daughter of the Merlin, Emrys Myrddin, has left Avalon to assume her place at Marie’s side. She has been trained in the deepest secrets of magic and is about to be bonded in immortal servitude to the crown just as her father was before her. Mages give up any rights to personal happiness when they accept the bond, eschewing family, love, and possessions. Aelwyn knows that her promise comes with a high cost and the sacrifice sometimes weighs on her.
Also venturing to London are two very different groups of people. There are Ronan Astor and Wolf, two people whose paths cross on the Saturnia, a luxury ship crossing the Atlantic from the Americas. Ronan is hoping to secure a marriage that will save her family in New York from bankruptcy. Several mix-ups occur that allow her to enjoy the season in high style, and Wolf is one of them. He has a connection to Marie and the Kronprinz Leopold and is much more than what Ronan’s initial impression of him proves to be.
The second group is the french contingent from Burgundy, Isabelle of Valois and her ruthless guardian, Hugh Borel. Borel owns a lush vineyard and supplies much of the Empire’s wine. He is grasping and cruel and exercises his power over both Isabelle and their other cousin, Louis-Phillippe Beziers, another ward of his estate. Isabelle was Leopold’s fiance and the Kronprinz exerted his rights as betrothed on her before their marriage. As a result of his engagement to Marie their union must be dissolved. Isabelle has come to court to plead for their love but finds that Leopold cannot circumvent a marriage that was entirely conceived without his approval.
There are numerous other characters involved in this court drama, but those seem to be the main players. At one point as I read I began to blur the lines between every character. It does take some time to establish just who everyone is, and I resorted to drawing up a list to keep them all straight. It’s worth the time though, as the characterizations in this novel are rich and rewarding. I was completely drawn into their schemes and intrigues and reveled in every new plot development.
The Arthurian bend was a nice touch as well. While the book does not completely follow the Arthurian myths there are shades of the origin tales that flavour the social-political ethos of the Franco-British empire. de la Cruz mentions Lanselin and Genevieve and Arcturus, though Merlin is the only person that we frequently see in the story. Avalon and Viviane (the Lady of the Lake) also features in the book. Initially, I was dubious about the idea of an alt-Arthurian premise but de la Cruz has handled it extremely well. I can’t wait to see where she goes with it.
This is one of those books that draws you through the pages. I felt like the characters were grabbing me by the hand and pulling me through the castle walls into their own machinations. It’s fast-paced and completely absorbing, a brutal game of politics and affairs of the heart. One likes to imagine that royalty has this much drama.
I am, once again, impressed with de la Cruz. She has tugged my heart out from my chest and wrapped the pages of her book around it. I entirely loved this story, and I cannot wait for book two.