The Ring and the Crown (Ring and the Crown, book one)
By Melissa de la Cruz, read by Jennifer Ikeda
Published 2014 by Recorded Books
Marie-Victoria is heir to the throne. Her mother, the Queen, is about to announce her engagement to the Prince of Prussia, thereby securing peace between their empires. The problem is that Marie-Victoria does not want to be Queen. She will attempt to enlist the help of her oldest friend, Aelwyn, in finding a new path. But none of them know just what is at stake and that changing one's destiny may not be as easy as they think.
I was thrilled to see this as one of the titles for this year's SYNC schedule and happily downloaded it as soon as it became available, making it my next audiobook listen. I was not disappointed.
I really enjoyed this one. I loved the multiple story lines and perspectives, trying to figure out how they would all come together in the end. I loved the opportunity this presented for getting to know more characters more deeply - this way allowed us to really understand the motivations and inner workings of several characters instead of focusing on just one or two. The characters are unique enough that it's not difficult to tell them apart and I never got confused about which story I was listening to at any point.
I liked the courtly intrigue that this book covers - it's one of my favorite aspects of historical fiction (at least that set among royalty). Additionally, I really enjoy the combination of historical fiction and fantasy. I liked the magic here, though I think it could have been covered more in-depth. I feel the fantasy took a bit of a backseat to the historical court part of the novel and I would have more enjoyed an even split. Also, I was pleased that this book had some surprises in store for me. I bragged earlier on that de la Cruz had not opted for subtlety, that it was extremely obvious what was going to happen with Marie-Victoria and Aelwyn's story. I was wrong. I'm not ashamed to admit it, and I was happy to have been fooled.
A couple of things that didn't exactly work for me: the varied romances. They all felt entirely too convenient and fortuitous. I mean, what are the odds that every single romantic feeling in this book, among any characters, is returned wholeheartedly? There are no unrequited love stories in the whole bunch, and that felt a little too false for me. Also, nearly every romance here is certified insta-love, adding to my dissatisfaction with the romances. In addition, I was not so crazy about the end. It felt rushed and incomplete. I suppose this can be partially explained by this being book one in a planned series, but that doesn't explain why the complex events in this volume are explained away in a brief summation.
That being said, I still quite liked this book and am certainly looking forward to the sequel. I thought the audio was well-done; Ikeda affects different accents for different characters and none of them are irritating or seem ill-suited, so that's good. The pacing of the audio works well and, as I said, it wasn't difficult to keep the various stories separate. I'll be recommending this one to fans of historical fantasy (including my fiance) and anticipating the coming of the sequel.
Oh, and I also love that this book opens with a quote from Beyonce.