It's now about a month into the Audiobook Sync summer reading program. Every week, two free audiobooks are available to download through the website: a YA title paired with a required reading title. Two weeks ago, Melissa de la Cruz's The Ring and the Crown was paired with Margo Lanagan's Sea Hearts. I started with Sea Hearts, not realizing until about fifteen minutes in that I'd already read the book under its alternate title, The Brides of Rollrock Island. So I skipped over to The Ring and the Crown, which was published just last year. It was not what I was expecting at all. The book begins with two epigraphs, one from an Emily Dickinson poem and another from Beyonce's "Run the World (Girls)." The combination of contemporary and historical weaves through the fantasy novel, which is the first in a series.
The Ring and the Crown presents an alternate history. It's the turn of the century (1900), and war has just ended between the Franco-British Empire and the Prussian Kingdom. The Prussian prince, Leopold, used a very powerful and dangerous piece of magic, The Pandora's Box, to end the war, and now he's betrothed to the Franco-British dauphine, Marie-Victoria, in order to bring peace to both nations. Now, young titled adolescents are flooding London for the Season, each with a different reason for coming to the capital.
The book trailer for The Ring and the Crown is fantastic at looking quickly at the many characters in the book. Book trailers can really walk the line between cheesy and cinematic, but I like this one for the way that it introduces its main characters:
There's Aelwyn, returning from Avalon to take her place in servitude to the new queen, her childhood friend Marie-Victoria. She's the Merlin's daughter, current magical advisor to the queen. Isabelle is the daughter of a titled French family, and because she was previously promised to Leo, she has come to London to dissolve their relationship so he is free to marry Marie-Victoria instead. Leo's younger brother Wolf fistfights his way across America, kept out of the war against the Franco-British Empire in case something happened to his brother. He comes to London to support Leo, and to determine where his future lies.
Perhaps the most interesting character (and my favourite) was Ronan Astor, an American girl who comes to London with the intention of securing an engagement with a moneyed lord in order to save her family from bankruptcy. But on the ship to London, she meets an intriguing boy who she whiles away the time with. They never learn each other's true identity, going instead by Cathy and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights.
The introductions to the many primary characters is extensive, made even moreso by the audiobook format. It felt like the story lines would never intersect, because so much time was building backstory for the individual characters. But eventually, everything began to come together: characters met, fell in love, and separated once they were all in London. Everything felt very neatly tied up at the end of the novel, and I'm curious to see where other books in the series will take these characters, or perhaps instead, whether other books will introduce new characters. The Ring and the Crown was an unexpected surprise of a book, and I loved listening to it as an audiobook. The world building is fantastic, and for characters like Ronan, it's so worth the read.