Fiction: “The Ring and the Crown” by Melissa de la Cruz

ring and the crownJust before Christmas, I requested two books from the library – this one, and one I’d end up finishing in January 2018. Here’s the problem – I honest to god thought this was a different book when I requested it.

I had put this on my “Want to Read” list on GoodReads back in June, and I must have gotten it confused with A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, which is also on my “Want to Read” list. In the end, I’m kind of glad I read it, but I was expecting something a bit darker, and not … royal Gossip Girl on steroids and also ~magic~.

No. I’m serious. This book is like if Gossip Girl involved royalty (not counting that one prince Blair ended up marrying for like, half a season) and also ~magic~, and then the whole thing got turned up to 11.

This book is crazy.

It takes place in a weird alternative history – it’s pre-WWI, Britain and France are one united empire, Prussia is still a thing, and also, Merlins are real but a title and not a single person. And the entire place is overrun by horny 17-year-olds.

Let’s start off with Princess Marie-Victoria of England. She’s the only daughter of Queen Eleanor, who happens to be a sprightly 150 years old. That is not a typo. I can’t remember who Marie’s father is supposed to be, but it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that a) Marie is suffering from the “wasting plague” (my notes describe that as “pretty consumption, like what Nicole Kidman had in Moulin Rouge“), and b) Eleanor wants to throw a ball to announce Marie’s engagement to Prince Leopold of Prussia.

Except Marie is in love with Gill, a commoner in the Queen’s Guard! (I had to double-check Gill’s spelling – I had taken notes longhand and looking back on them, I wasn’t sure if I had misspelled his name. But no, according to this amazing review by Goodreads user Khanh, his name really is spelled Gill.)

[Oh my god it’s so hot I’m typing this part on July 5 and I have not been able to get my apartment below 91° in more than 24 hours FUCK YOU SCOTT PRUITT I hope you live with rancid swamp ass for the rest of your miserable fucking little life]

[Note From the Future: Oh, July 5th!Alaina: honey, you have not lived the absolute hell that was the first weekend in August. Or last week. Or ANY OF THE NIGHTS BETWEEN JULY 5 AND AUGUST 31, because I don’t think my apartment dropped below 80° AT ANY TIME THIS SUMMER]

[Also, that punishment is entirely too light for Scott Pruitt. You can do better than that.]

ANYWAY. Prince Leopold has been having an affair with Isabelle of Orleans for a while. Isabelle thought he was going to propose to her, but instead, he breaks up with her so he can go marry Marie.

My notes remind me that, while reading the book, I had high hopes that Leopold was actually a Manchurian candidate-type character; no such luck. Leopold’s just a horrible person. An asshole, if you will.

Around the same time that Leopold’s breaking up with Isabelle, Marie’s childhood friend Aelwyn Myrddyn returns to the palace. Aelwyn, the daughter of Queen Eleanor’s Merlin, Emrys Myrddyn, was one of Viviane’s apprentices on Avalon. Aelwyn was sent to Avalon after she accidentally set Marie’s bedroom on fire, but she’s back now. Mainly because Emrys called her back, but also because she was in love with Lanselin (this book’s version of Lancelot) and needed to get out of that situation. It’s understood that Aelwyn will take over as Marie’s Merlin when Marie ascends to the throne.

However, Aelwyn doesn’t really contribute anything to the plot. She makes Marie prettier than she already is — seriously, the ~*magic*~ in this book is basically all the glamours and Sleekeazy potions from Harry Potter and none of the other spells. She does end up with a crush on Leopold, but it doesn’t really add anything to the love triangle between —

Well wait, it’s not a triangle. Because Marie loves Gill, Gill loves Marie, but Marie has to marry Leopold, who doesn’t give a shit, and Isabelle loves Leopold, until she realizes he’s a complete and utter asshole, and we haven’t even talked about three other people.

(Also – Jesus, poor Isabelle. Her parents are dead; she’s the ward of her horrible, molesty guardian, Lord Hugo; her best friend seems like he might have a crush on her, but once she gets over Leopold and decides to go after her friend, he’s dating some other chick. She may have also ended up pregnant by Leopold, but I cannot remember.)

Then there’s Ronan Astor, the best character. FIGHT ME. In this version of events, America is still a colony, and the Astors are destitute. Apparently, Daddy Astor invested in Science and Innovation, but ~*magic*~ didn’t go away like he thought it would and now Science is stupid, and now the Astors are broke. But they’re still rich enough to send Ronan off to England, where hopefully she can wrangle a rich, landed dude into marrying her.

When she reaches the boat, she’s embarrassed that she’s basically in steerage. But she meets this dude who’s name is Heath, and he trades her his luxury suite for her steerage tickets, and then hangs out with her the entire time. And they really, genuinely like each other!

But Heath is actually Wolf – and he happens to be Leopold’s brother! Wolf (short for Wolfgang, naturally) had been traveling across America because he doesn’t like being a member of royalty, but now he’s required to go back home for Leopold’s engagement. I think he proposes to Ronan but she turns him town, because she maybe didn’t know it was his luxury suite she ended up with? She needs to marry someone rich and she thought he wasn’t? It was a stupid reason, that much I know.

So all of these people converge on London for the ball for Marie and Leopold! Leo flirts with Aelwyn, who has agreed to pretend to be Marie via glamour so Marie and Gill can escape and be normal people! Ronan is surprised to see Heath, but really interested when she learns that he’s a prince!

You think that everything’s coming up Milhouse, and then —

[SPOILER ALERT]

Emrys Myrddyn manages to SHOOT LEOPOLD, who DIES.

AND IT WAS ALL PLANNED BY ELEANOR AND EMRYS FROM THE BEGINNING

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Yeah. I AM disappointed. Because not only is Leopold dead (which actually is totes okay), but now, WOLF has to marry Marie. And because Marie can actually stand Wolf a bit, she AGREES, leaving Gill. AND THAT MEANS RONAN IS ALONE AGAIN.

Like, what the shit is that?!

This was supposed to be the start of a series, but apparently the publisher dropped it? So the second book, The Lily and the Cross, was self-published for Amazon. I do not think I’m going to read it, unless Wolf decides to leave Marie and be with Ronan. (Which I’m pretty sure won’t happen.)

Grade for The Ring and the Crown: 1.5 stars

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Fiction: “The Invasion of the Tearling” by Erika Johansen

invasion of the tearlingY’all know how rare it is for me to read the next book in a series within the same year as the last one. I mean, at one point, I was reading a lot of series – Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, J.D. Robb’s In Death; hell, even Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, to name a few. To put in perspective how great-and-by-“great”-I-mean-“awful” at reading series I am, the last time I read any of the above series was 2015, 2016, and 2016 respectively. So the fact that I read the second book in the Tearling Trilogy only eight months after I read the first book – it’s kind of a big deal.

This book picks up relatively soon after The Queen of the Tearling left off.  (You might want to click that link and read what happened in the first book before going on with this review; Lord knows I had to, notes be-damned.)

[Also: I’m putting a warning out for this book. The book has detailed passages describing domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, and other nasty, awful things steeped in patriarchy and the removal of women’s rights. Some of the scenes are horrifying. Please be warned.]

Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, the Queen of the Tearling, is readying herself and her country to deal with the repercussions of her actions at the end of the last book: she stopped the Shipment of Tear citizens to the Mort, and now the Mort Queen wants revenge – or at least, for the Shipment to start up again. Kelsea is determined to be a better queen to her subjects than her mother, Elyssa. She has sent her scant armies to the borderlands, waiting for the Mort Queen to invade. Meanwhile, after discussing with her council (led by the Mace), she has ordered all her subjects to evacuate to New London, where she can attempt to keep them safe from the Mort Queen. She’s also nervous, because the sapphires she has have been dormant for a while – in the last book, she relied on the energy coming from her jewels as a reassurance that she was doing the right thing. With the stones quiet, her doubt increases.

During all of this planning, Kelsea is also learning about the past leaders of the Tear. Mace (or another guard, I can’t remember and didn’t write it down) take her downstairs to the royal gallery, where there are portraits of all of the royalty dating back to when William Tear was the first leader of his utopian Tear. She notices a couple of things: 1) Row Finn, a former prince of the Tearling, has been visiting her at night in the fire (yeah, it’s kind of weird and mystical – it’s revealed he’s also been the Evil Thing that was spurring the Mort Queen on in the previous book), and 2) there is a small child painted at the feet of the Beautiful Queen who goes missing from the rest of the paintings.

In addition to the incorporeal visits of Row Finn, Kelsea has also been experiencing fugue states, where she drifts off from the Tear and visits pre-Crossing America.

And hoo boy – if y’all thought Gilead was bad … I mean, pre-Crossing America is still very very bad, but it’s not quite as bad as Gilead, but GODDAMMIT NEITHER OF THESE DYSTOPIAS SHOULD BE SEEN AS OPTIONS FOR SURVIVAL

(And no, I haven’t even dared to begin to watch The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu. Just the thought of it sends me into anxiety. No thanks. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. )

Oh, what’s Pre-Crossing America turned into?

Rich (deemed “private”) citizens are physically segregated from the public (read: “poor”) citizens. There are private roads, for the rich and powerful people, and there are public highways, for the poor and indigent.  America has been ravaged, no thanks to their President Freeman (excellent anvil, there, Ms. Johansen): women don’t have to work, because their property belongs to their husbands. People have identity chips implanted into their shoulders, and an elaborate Security system is able to track everyone’s movements.

Also, not surprisingly, fertility and the ability to have children is prized. Fathers get promotions, so husbands need to have babies in order to hold onto their power.

Lily Herman is married to Greg, who works for the Department of Defense (or the new version of it, whatever). They live in a fabulous, private house in the suburbs of New York City, and every month, Lily is driven to her doctor for fertility treatments. Except Lily has actually been taking black market birth control for years, and is hoping that she can keep up the ruse. She tends to hide all day in the room tricked out as the nursery, because it’s the only room Greg won’t venture into. It’s also the room where she’s been able to loop the video surveillance so it looks like it’s empty.

That is very convenient when Dorian, a young woman from the “Blue Horizon” group, crashes over Lily’s backyard fence with a gunshot wound.

Lily knows she should report Dorian to the authorities, but she can’t bring herself to do it. She remembers her rebellious younger sister who was taken by Security and never seen again. Lily enlists the assistance of her personal bodyguard, Jonathan, and they help bring Dorian back to health.

Greg’s childlessness is affecting his work performance and his ability to gain a promotion, and of course he takes it out on Lily when he gets home. Greg is abusive up to and including rape. Spoiler alert!: he ends up dead. Hooray!

At a dinner party, Lily learns that the Blue Horizon group is going to be targeted and potentially eradicated by Security forces the next morning. She manages to kill Greg and steal the car to meet up with Blue Horizon in Boston, where she officially meets William Tear, and they venture to the New World, via the Crossing.

Kelsea sees that entire plotline through her multiple fugue states throughout the novel. It’s harrowing, but also feels kind of disjointed at times.

There’s also a subplot involving Father Tyler of the Arvath and the new Pope-dude (look, I can’t remember what the High Priest is called and I’m not looking it up; “Pope-dude” is good enough). The Pope-dude is terrible, and basically threatens to burn all of Father Tyler’s books if he doesn’t manage to poison Kelsea.

But Tyler is able to escape from the Arvath – and he’s able to steal the true crown of the Tear, but he isn’t able to send it to Kelsea.

There’s a lot going on in this book. Kelsea also sentences Arlen Thorne, the previous head of the Shipment to death, and executes him in a violent rage in the town square. The Mace has taken a shine to Andalie’s oldest daughter, Aisa, and teaches her how to defend herself. Aisa dreams about joining the Queen’s Guard, and she’s only like, twelve.

At the climax of the book, the Mort Queen herself has journeyed with her army to the outskirts of New London. Kelsea names the Mace Regent and ventures out on her own to negotiate with the Mort Queen. She even allows the Mort Queen to take her sapphires, but in exchange, the Mort Queen will leave the Tear and its people alone for three years. The Mort Queen agrees; but then when she takes the sapphires, they do nothing – even though the Mort Queen is that missing child from the Beautiful Queen’s portrait, Evelyn Raleigh, and she believes that she is the right true heir of the Tear.

Lily’s plot ends at The Crossing, with William Tear and Blue Horizon.

So … there’s a lot of plot to this book. A lot. And while I was intrigued by the plot of Pre-Crossing, and I felt it gave a good origin to the Tear and to show how far it has come since its inception, I felt that at times, it detracted from Kelsea’s own story. I know that she needs to see Lily’s story to influence her own, but still – it felt like two different books in one.

It also seems like Kelsea all-of-a-sudden learns she has super rage powers, as evidenced by her brutal execution of Arlen Thorne. I can’t remember if she experiences remorse for her actions – or at least, the level of brutality she evinced. I’m not sure how I feel about her at the end of the book. I admire her for putting herself at risk over her subjects, but her slip into the dark side may not have been so … slippery.

Anyway. I’ll probably read the last book of the trilogy. Not sure when that’ll be, but I’ve made such good progress on this series that I’d hate myself if I stopped now.

Grade for The Invasion of the Tearling: 3 stars