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So I will admit I wanted this book for the pretty cover and because there was a hint that people would be going to war and scheming. And i am all for going to war and scheming. Turns out it was so not what I thought it would be but still pretty amazing anyway.
The main female lead is amazing, her sis is just whingy enough that I want to slap her repeatedly. The villain is mean but I'm pretty sure its not all character flaws, there's definitely got to be some environmental influence there. The love interests are for the most part squish and fun - I definitely shipped a certain couple and just wanted to do that thing where kids take their pets, smush their faces together and yell 'kiss' until either someone gets bitten or there is slobber everywhere.
Here is a small warning though. There is a lot of content in a small number of pages, prepare to have to take breaks. Overall it's a pretty good book that I will definitely be buying the sequel to.
I really enjoyed this book. I loved the word building and the characters. Nor and Zadie had such a strong sisterly bond that was lovely to read, when they were apart I felt my heart breaking for them. This story was immersive, I got completely lost in it and couldnt put this book down. In my opinion the ending wrapped up just a little too quickly. There were moments that were glossed over a bit, when I would have rather seen them play out. Overall this was a really unique and immersive story.
Crown of Coral and Pearl is the debut novel by Mara Rutherford and is set in a fictional world where the Varenian people have to provide a future queen to the king to be from Ilara - a kingdom named after a fled princess who drowned there the Varenian built their village vowed to the oath to stay on the ocean until the kingdom is ruled by a female leader again who inherited the throne.
Main protagonist is Nor who together with her twin sister Zadie participates in the ceremony of becoming the chosen girl. But ever since Nor rescued her sister from drowning her face is wearing a little scar that makes her imperfect in the eyes of pretty much everyone in her village. Afte Zadie scars herself Nor is send to Ilara in her place to marry the future king and to also learn the truth about why the Varenians are kept down by the rulers of Ilara and how Nor could help end the struggle of her people. While trying to come through with her masquerade and keeping up with the fact that her betrothed Ceren is a cold and cruel person Nor falls more and more for Talin - the younger brother of her husband-to-be and her only danger of being exposed by court.
The story is told in the first person view from Nor who narrates through the whole thing and while the love story, the cruel fiancé and the secrets in Ilara aren't a new thing in a YA novel with a female protagonist who defies her destiny and tries to go her own way the setting, mythology and world building is beautifully set. The opposite of Varenia and Ilara with their ways of life and what they value most are some of the most important devices that drive the plot. Varenia is a beautiful place set out in the ocean and all the world building is put there with the pink pearls and the blood corals. Although the theme of the blood coral and its specialities are brought back up again in Ilara with the blood stones harvested in the mines before they were closed down and built into New Castle - the home of the Ilarean monarchy. The story itself needs a bit to speed up so the first third is set entirely on Varenia. Which is good because the seascape is far more beautiful and interesting compared to the life and surroundings Nor has to see in Ilara. And though the story is building up slowly and the odds of how Zadie is chosen only for Nor to replace her are a bit off the sisterly dynamics are lovely. The character of their mother as a woman driven by her own desires and pride gives Zadie and Nor many opportunities to show how much they care for each other even though Zadie's final actions are selfish she would do anything for Nor as Nor'd do anything for Zadie. The opposite of these two are Ceren and Talin whose relationship is more complicated but sadly not entirely covered in the story since only the things revealed to Nor are the ones known about their relationship.
Ceren as the villain is plain in his desires. Maybe if the story was told in another point of view so that the thoughts of Ceren would be presented as well it would have been possible to understand his intentions more clearly. Since the history of Ilara isn't presented as well the whole construction of problems in Ilara are narrowed down to Nor pretending to be her sister who has to marry Ceren while being in love with Talin and to find a way to save her people while also dealing with her homesickness. Without other insights the story is as plain as the villain who seems to have an interesting backstory which should have been explored more. Instead the focus is lying on his cruel actions in the present with hints of his past showing in some scenes where he can't contain himself to his neutral self.
All in all it is a lovely setting with good but not great or innovative characters with a foreseeable plot line and a rushed and overpacked ending which sets up the second book. It is well written and Varenia is beautiful and lovely and unique and nearly because of this place worth reading. But also the sisterly love of Zadie and Nor is a ver positive thing in this debut as well as the unraveling of the truth behind many things Varenia and Ilara held for the truth. Still many plot points are predictable and foreseeable and in some cases it is just easy to guess what will happen next. A fun but not outstanding book to read.
Like The Thirteenth Tale, this book gave an honest but mystical depiction of twins raised by narcissistic mothers and ineffectual fathers. As a twin myself, from a family where all the children come in pairs - pairs where one is loathed as much as the othr is loved- this book resonated with me. The story has none of Setterfield's intricate weaving of plots onto the lush fabric of Vida Winter's fantasy library. But it had the ocean, my own first love, and described the unrises and salt coarse skin so well I could taste the sea breeze on my lips. I am very much looking forward to the next book...but can it not be sooner released? Please?