In Varenia beauty is everything. Beauty is honor, esteem, and escape. Or at least Nor believed it was for her entire childhood, until a series of unexpected events lead her to the land of Ilara to marry Prince Ceren.
In Crown of Coral and Pearl we are introduced to twin sisters Zadie and Nor, their entire lives have revolved around an archaic ceremony where the most beautiful girl in Varenia is chosen to be the wife of the Prince of Ilara. Nor, the main character, was left with a scar on her cheek due to an accident when she was younger leaving her identical twin sister to be chosen as the next Ilarean Princess, but tragedy strikes and Nor is forced to take Zadie’s place in secret. But, there are secrets lurking below the surface of the Ilarean castle and Nor is determined to uncover them for the sake of the starving Varenian people.
Crown of Coral and Pearl nails its characters. The good guys are people you want to root for and the bad guys will fill you with rage. I was particularly intrigued by the antagonists, specifically Nor’s mother and Prince Ceren. Nor’s mother hurt me to my core, her mother is so obsessed with the idea of her daughters being chosen that she dictates their entire lives and even goes so far as to call Nor damaged. One quote really got me, her mother tells her, “Without your beauty, you are nothing.” I found that line to be so unforgivable that I just wanted the mom to die. Such a terrible thing to say to your own child. Mara Rutherford’s character building is so convincing, I really hated the antagonists. Prince Ceren is also just the worst. He gets off on making people uncomfortable and is abusive in every way imaginable. I couldn’t stand the idea of a character like him existing.
The world building is also enjoyable while relatively small scale. This is not Westeros, so it does not contain the overly complex map that you never want to look at, it’s easy to follow and I liked that. While simple, it does not come off as under developed. The land is rich with a history to follow. The contrast of tropical Varenia and the Ilarean castle embedded in the mountain makes an interesting plot point. Nor’s constant yearning to be by the ocean and in the sun really makes you feel for her. Watching her descent into an entirely different landscape is suffocating and you suffer alongside her.
The magical elements in this book are subtle. You will find magic used in very strategic ways, for me it was a pleasant surprise. Traditional aspects of fantasy are buried in this novel, such as monsters and special gifts, but they don’t steal the spotlight from the storyline. The backseat approach to magic was a refreshing change in my opinion.
The book has a lot of good lessons to teach. It focuses on the beauty within and one section really embraces that idea, “I felt the eyes of every woman as I passed, and I reminded myself that I was doing this for them, and for every young girl in Varenia who would spend her life wondering if she was beautiful enough.” This quote stuck with me, most girls go through a self conscious phase wondering if they are beautiful enough to be loved. This idea really added a layer to Nor that made her relatable, she is so different from the girls in our world, but still very much the same. Nor is tough and she fights for those who have been stepped all over, I love that about this character. She is rough in all the right places but she isn’t annoyingly tough. She knows her strengths and limitation and will use them to make a difference in the world.
Another point that really hit home is that, above all else, family and love are what matter most in this world. “Home was not a house, or a village, or a sea. It was family, and love, and the space where your soul could roost, like a seabird safe from a storm.”
If you ask me this book has a well rounded story and complexities to make it unique within th YA genre. It truly stood out to me and I think Crown of Coral and Pearl will make an impact on its readers. 5/5 stars for this one.
Crown of Coral and Pearl will be released on August 27th, 2019. Thank you to NetGalley and Harlequin Teen for allowing me access to this book.