Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Ring & the Crown

The Ring & the Crown, a young adult novel by Melissa de la Cruz, mixes fantasy and Victorian genres. The idea of magic competing against a sort of scientific and industrial revolution (not steam but electric) is an idea I've not run across a lot. In fact, it was unique enough that a group of my writing friends (myself included) created a world with a similar idea at its starting point. Our plot differs drastically from anything Melissa de la Cruz would write and was conceived far before I picked up her book, but the idea that magic is a sort of science is the backdrop of both stories. (Ours changes even from that. If you want to know more, check out

The Ring & the Crown has a large cast of characters. Most young adult books stick to one or two to narrate the story, but this book is a step removed from the immediacy of first-person narration with a third-person limited viewpoint which is interchanged among five different major characters. Though the characters are appropriate for young adult, the writing style bridges the gap between young adult and fantasy or even historical fiction.

I didn't like all the characters. There were really only two I was rooting for, though I wasn't entirely antagonistic to the others. The setting of the plot both intrigued me and contributed to why I didn't like some of the characters. By at least by the end, I was sympathetic to most of them.

The setting is this: a war has come to an end by the soon-to-be alliance of Prince Leopold and Princess Marie whose interests lie in different directions than each other. Meanwhile, Wolf, the younger brother of the engaged prince is trying to find his own direction, be it in girls or fistfights. Leopold's lover, Isabelle, must sign away her engagement to him so that the royal wedding may progress. The American girl, Ronan, must find herself a rich husband in London to save her family's financial situation. And the magician Aelwyn must choose between a life of independence or a life of service to her childhood friend Marie.

The magic history bears remarking on as it appears to be related to a version of the stories of King Arthur, Lancelot, and Merlin, taking place perhaps near a thousand years after those events. Whether this book would claim that story to be the same one we know or whether it's all part of an alternate universe is not addressed but would be an interesting thing to ask the author.

I'm not sure if this book is part of a series, as most young adult books are, or if it is meant to stand alone. It feels like a standalone book, particularly at the end, which attempts to resolve all the characters' lives. The end is abrupt and unexpected. Looking back, I saw a few hints of foreshadowing, but there didn't seem to be quite enough time taken to set everything up. In fact, characters end up explaining the end to one another, an end that is interesting but that feels a bit like the cliff notes version. I certainly had mixed feelings. I generally liked how things were resolved overall, but I felt like not everyone's story was told adequately...and forget happily. I know stories don't have to end neatly and happily to be good (though I prefer happy, or a really good reason not), but when half your main characters fade into obscurity at the end of a book, it's not satisfying. Fortunately, they were the characters I didn't care about as much, but like I said, once my sympathy was aroused, I thought they deserved better. Maybe that's what a sequel could be for.

This book gets three stars from me. Morality plays a small factor in that rating. There was the sensuality I expected just from the nature of the book's content, but the details were mostly implied. There were places where it fit the story and other places where it didn't need to be there but was just added to give some wildness to a character, which could have been done in other ways. On the other hand, I appreciated the interweaving of story lines (until the end) and the way that the world felt like it had some history and depth, and I did enjoy the read despite the odd end and character complaints I have.

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