“The ocean never gave gifts without expecting something in return, it was said, and Thalos was a hungry god.”
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.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
EXPECTED AUGUST 27, 2019
CW: self-harm, murder, animal cruelty, loss of a loved one, animal death, gore
With a cover and summary like that, I have to admit I was expecting mermaids from Crown of Coral and Pearl. Which ultimately led to some disappointment, BUT me getting ahead of myself is hardly the book’s fault. Instead, this is a book about the lengths sisters can go for each other and what it takes to upend everything for the sake of a new future. How could I say no to that?
And for the most part, I was pretty pleased. I loved the setting of Varenia in particular, how I could imagine the village floating on the ocean, and Nor and Zadie swimming between houses or taking a boat out into the deeper sea in search of pearls. I loved that there was a creation story to the nation, a reason they lived out to sea when most resources are found on land in the stranglehold of Ilara, and I adored the concept of blood coral (though admittedly I wanted to explore that more, since it seems to be the only magical high fantasy concept in a book that reads more like a low political fantasy, and high fantasy is my one true weakness).
I also loved that Nor was able to rely on herself so much. It’s hardly a bad thing for characters to have friends (the more friendship the better if you ask me), but in a place where she suddenly doesn’t know who to trust, where her life and the lives of her loved ones are on the line, I really enjoyed her proactive nature. She doesn’t let things come to her for the most part. Instead, she takes the initiative and drags things to her, kicking and screaming if she must. And not only that, but she holds tightly to her Varenian morals, even if it’s not the most helpful thing to do. The most endearing character flaws are the ones that can equally be a strength, and Nor fit that, in my eyes.
Throw in some murder and contention for the crown and an uproar in the country, and Crown of Coral and Pearl had a lot of things that caught my eye and held my attention.
That said, I did have three issues with the book that I’d love to see tightened in the final copy.
For starters (brace yourself, you know this one coming from me), I didn’t like the romance. It felt entirely shallow, given that Nor had every reason to avoid getting tangled up with this character for her own safety, and because he had minimal personality. Really, the only thing that the two of them shared is that he wasn’t a complete jerk, and that his mother was Varenian. Otherwise, I didn’t get the appeal, so the romance felt flat and forced from almost every angle.
Not only that, but since the first portion of the book was centered on Nor’s frustration with the standards of beauty in Varenia (which place a woman’s worth almost solely on her beauty, due to the arrangement with Ilara), it felt pretty at odds with the theme of worth beyond physical beauty to make it clear that the LI was a really cute fella and the villain was sickly and not as good looking. He’s the villain because he’s cruel, yes, but still. Not really loving how that one shook out.
And finally, everything feels so unresolved. I understand that it’s because this sold in a one-book deal, so there won’t be more unless this does well at publication, but that means the ending was painfully rushed, and lots of things felt unresolved. Sami’s fate? The connection between bloodstone and blood coral? The consequences of the woman king’s sights being set on Ilara? What Nor and Zadie are going to do about the village that’s been convinced it should hate them? The title crown, which appeared at basically the last second? The exact nature of Varenian health and aging and healing, especially in relation to the blood coral? So, so much about Crown of Coral and Pearl has me wishing this was at least a duology so that these things could be expanded on without turning this into a 600 page beast of a book. All the most interesting parts of the resolution were missing, and I’d come back to this world in a heartbeat if I could because I still have questions!
At the end of the day, though, I enjoyed Crown of Coral and Pearl, and I hope it does well enough to warrant Mara returning to the world and further exploring what she’s already set up. This could be absolutely fantastic with a little more time spent developing the details, and it’s already pretty good as it stands.
And if it sounds like your kind of story, good news! It’s out on August 27th, so you still have time to place a preorder or put a request in through your library! Sales are a big factor in whether or not this world will be revisited, so if you can do it, I definitely encourage you to.