Review: Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara Rutherford

“Can you hear the ocean humming? See the blood go sweeping past? The child of the waves is coming. To set our people free at last.”

– Mara Rutherford

Release Date: August 27, 2019
Thank you to NetGalley and Inkyard Press for and eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Synopsis

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. 


Review

In the sea village of Valerian, every generation the most beautiful girl of the village is selected to marry the prince of Ilara and become the next Queen. Many years ago, the young princess of Ilara ran away to be with a prince of another kingdom, who did not pay penance to the sea, among the ocean and be wed. Their love was strong but the sea god, Thalos, wanted what he was due from the kingdom that had given him little. He created a storm and stole the princess from the prince, who was also never seen again, leaving the Queen of Ilara devastated. For their part in helping the prince and princess escape and be together the servants create their own village of Valerian and repent, every generation they send the most beautiful female to marry the new prince until a new princess if born.

The story is told in two parts. First we get to be apart of the village of Valerian, see their culture and traditions along with how they survive off of the beautiful and flawless pearls created by the dangerous blood coral. The first part of the story was my favorite. The details of the village of Valerian was so well done I could picture it perfectly and felt as if I could go visit it someday. We are also introduced to twins Zadie and Nor who have been trained from birth on how to stay beautiful in order to be queen. An unfortunate childhood accident left Nor with a tiny scar of her face that basically takes her out of the running, although even with the scar she is beautiful.

The sisterly relationship revolves around this scar, with Nor insisting it brought them closer versus pitting them against each other the way their beauty had. The relationship between the sisters was full of so much love. They were so close and while they had a hard life growing up in a poor and struggling village, they made the best of it. While we know Zadie is going to be selected but Nor will instead go in her place from the synopsis, the first 30% didn’t drag on because of the amazing writing and world-building I keep mentioning. We knew what was going to happen, but it didn’t drag. I was no rush to leave Valerian or have the sisters separated.

Obviously the first half of the book has a ton of emphasis on beauty and how you can’t choose your own path or have doors opened to you if you’re not beautiful. I appreciate the author weaving in the messages of self-worth and shooting down the emphasis society puts on looks and being beautiful. It’s because of her scar that Nor gets to truly be herself and seen beyond her looks. Nor was smart, clever and deeply loyal to her sister and village. her worth went beyond her looks.

The second part of the book takes place in Illara and the awful New Castle, a kingdom built into the mountain where there is only darkness. No windows to be seen so there’s no fresh air or sunlight except from the tiny skylights the royals have in their rooms. Again, I felt like I could go visit this castle in this kingdom struggling and on the brink of war. It felt real and I wanted to explore more of the world, which we hopefully will in the second book. Prince Celen was predictably awful, obsessed with his failing health due to the dark and dank castle he never leaves. Rutherford tried to make him a morally grey character, but I couldn’t get into that and just wanted him gone. His half brother Talin was everything he was not, in good health and well loved by the court, and he despised him to the point where I couldn’t figure out why Celen hadn’t killed him already like he’d been rumored to do to Talin’s mother.

Celen and Talin weren’t as well written as Nor and Zadie and fell a bit flat for me. Toss in the Insta-love of Nor and Talin and I just was not a fan. We were told a lot of things about the brothers but not a lot about them was shown. I couldn’t tell you anything about Talin except for that he was the “good brother” the supposed opposite of Celen in every way. I still found myself questioning him though, wondering if maybe Celen would turn out to be the good one while Talin had ulterior motives. Also that castle had a lot of weird crap going on it like mysterious monsters and kings being deathly ill at age 40. People really needed to get the heck out of that place and get some dang sunshine. 100% of Celen’s problems could have been solved with fresh air and sunshine.

The synopsis of Crown of Coral and Pearl laid this whole book bare. We knew things that were set up to be surprises because of it which I think took away from the book a tad unfortunately. The writing and world-building were enough to save this book from getting too bad of a rating from me. That being said though, I struggled with the rating for this book tremendously. I read this book in one sitting and loved the first half of the book while the second fell a bit flat for me and was a bit of a let down. The sister relationship was so well written along with the town of Valerian, it had potential. While I neared the end of the book, I decided I didn’t want to read the next book. It was wrapped up in a way where I felt content about not returning to this world. This was originally a stand-alone novel turned duology and the twist at the end was the only reason I could see the need for a second book. It could have easily been a stand-alone and I kind of wish it had stayed that way. The romance and other characters will need a major writing overhaul to get me to read it.

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