Princess Marie-Victoria, heir to the Lily Throne, and Aelwyn Myrddn, bastard daughter of the Mage of England, grew up together. But who will rule, and who will serve?
Quiet and gentle, Marie has never lived up to the ambitions of her mother, Queen Eleanor the Second, Supreme Ruler of the Franco-British Empire. With the help of her Head Merlin, Emrys, Eleanor has maintained her stranglehold on the world’s only source of magic. She rules the most powerful empire the world has ever seen.
But even with the aid of Emrys’ magic, Eleanor’s extended lifespan is nearing its end. The princess must marry and produce an heir or the Empire will be vulnerable to its greatest enemy, Prussia. The two kingdoms must unite to end the war, and the only solution is a match between Marie and Prince Leopold VII, heir to the Prussian throne. But Marie has always loved Gill, her childhood friend and soldier of the Queen’s Guard.
Together, Marie and Aelwyn, a powerful magician in her own right, come up with a plan. Aelwyn will take on Marie’s face, allowing the princess to escape with Gill and live the quiet life she’s always wanted. And Aelwyn will get what she’s always dreamed of–the chance to rule. But the court intrigue and hunger for power in Lenoran England run deeper than anyone could imagine. In the end, there is only rule that matters in Eleanor’s court: trust no one.
Trigger Warning: Mentions of molestation/rape in the review below.
Tell Me More: A common plot device among historical novels is the lack of female agency, and in the stories I’ve enjoyed most, the female characters are able to either shake that off or use it to their advantage. Their ability to recognize that they are capable and smart and powerful gives those stories depth where you could otherwise have cardboard cutouts. Sadly, this is not the case in The Ring and the Crown.
Melissa de la Cruz’s newest novel begins with two young women who are purported to hold power, and to an extent, they exercise some of that power. The mystery of how they would grow into their titles and magic drew me in, but the bulk of the story focused on romance and gossip. That won’t necessarily be a bad thing for all readers, but I had expected a story about two girls on the threshold of their adult lives and the external conflict (read: war) that threatens them, not a historical version of Gossip Girl. Marie and Aelwyn make efforts to change things, but flip-flop so often between their choices that it could give one whiplash. Sexual acts are mentioned quite a bit, and molestation (of a character by her uncle) and rape occur in scenes, enough to make me wonder why there are no trigger warnings in place.
At the end of it all, my question remains: What was the point of all the struggle? If the choices that Marie and Aelwyn made would be negated and dismissed, then why would we continue to cheer for them? Obviously, because they want a different life than the one dictated for both of them, but I closed the book without feeling like their hearts wanted that. They settled, and I never got the sense they would fight beyond that. Perhaps that was the agency readers were supposed to see, the “serenity to accept the things they cannot change,” but I find that hard to believe when the book opens with two epigraphs, one of them a call to action from Beyoncé. Aelwyn comes the closest to taking that action, but it doesn’t feel satisfactory.
As a reader, the book asks me to at least be emotionally invested enough to want to know what happens to these characters and why. I did not find them unlikeable, but neither did I find them characters to cheer for and support. They simply exist, paper dolls swaying in the wind, their actions still dictated by the machinations of the court.
The Final Say: The Ring and the Crown will please readers looking for Tudor-lite fare, complete with intrigue and drama.
Melissa de la Cruz is the New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of many critically acclaimed and award-winning novels for teens including The Au Pairs series, the Blue Bloods series, the Ashleys series, the Angels on Sunset Boulevard series and the semi-autobiographical novel Fresh off the Boat.
Her books for adults include the novel Cat’s Meow, the anthology Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys and the tongue-in-chic handbooks How to Become Famous in Two Weeks or Less and The Fashionista Files: Adventures in Four-inch heels and Faux-Pas.