Two girls, best friends. One is heir to the Lily throne. The other is the daughter of the most powerful mage in the empire.
Princess Marie-Victoria has always been a sick and weak child. As the time comes for her to inherit the throne, her mother and the Mage of England seek an alliance with the powerful, savvy crown prince of Prussia. But Marie-Victoria has other plans for her life.
Aelwyn, the bastard daughter of the Mage of England, has to make her own choice: return to Avalon and live as a magician in exile, or take her vows and join the order who serve the Franco-British Empire. Aelwyn has never desired to serve. In her heart, she has always envied the princess’ life and privileges. When Marie-Victoria approaches her with a plan for the future, Aelwyn’s heart thrums at the possibility and quakes in terror at what her friend is asking of her.
Together the girls have the opportunity to shape the future of the world. Only first they must decide which future to choose.
I was a little nervous beginning this story because I’d read one of her Gates of Paradise books and really struggled with the story and characters. I found myself really fascinated with the set-up of this story. If Merlin were real and his power continued beyond King Arthur’s day, how would that shape the world? In The Ring and the Crown, this means England conquers France. The Revolutionary War? Not so much. The American colonies still belong to the English – er, the Franco-British – Empire. These guys can’t be beat.
I liked the way de la Cruz wove in some French cultural references into the politics and traditions surrounding the royal family. It added an authenticity to the story world in a really subtle way. As strange as the concept sounds, the story world felt totally believable. I loved the idea and it read like the author really thought through a lot of the lore about Merlin and the period of European history.
The characters were fantastic. Each had really distinct personality and voice. It was easy to root for them. I liked that the romance was a bit unpredictable. Several times I thought I knew what would happen and was surprised at the real outcome.
All in all this was a really entertaining read. I would definitely consider following this series, which isn’t something I normally do. The ending really set a great hook for the next story, though, so I’m finding it hard to resist!
Leo is a bit of a cad and appears to frequently take ladies to bed with him. He coerces Isabelle into having sex with him. Isabelle’s guardian has been sexually abusing her since she was a girl. Very few real details about it. Her description is more of a flickering memory, so we don’t experience him doing anything in scene, other than kissing her. Aelwyn recalls a love affair with another resident of Avalon. She briefly recollects having sex with him and the heartbreak that followed when the relationship ended. No details describing the sex, just a brief reference to waking up together, etc. There are no rules regarding same-sex relationships, and two very eligible bachelors have chosen one another as lovers. No description of the physical affection between them.
Merlin’s order has pretty much taken the place of the church in England. The order appears to operate much like a monastery, and the head rules alongside the queen of the empire. A Pandora’s box is the only weapon that can stand against the power of the magic held by the English.
Brief references to battle. A young prince takes out frustrations in the boxing ring. A young man defends the honor of his love in a duel to the death.
References to drinking wine.