“You’d really risk everything for some servant boy? His life is worth nothing compared to yours.”
“My life is worth nothing if I ever believe that.”
I received an ARC of Crown of Coral and Pearl at BookCon, this in no way impacts my review. However, my review is based on an unfinished and uncorrected copy, please note that the story and quotes may differ from the final book. I’ll keep this review as spoiler-free as possible.
The third book of my ’10 books in 3 weeks’ project
Read from July 26th to July 29th 2019
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Seventeen-year-old Nor grew up in Varenia, an isolated village on the ocean. The Varenian are forbidden to set foot on land and rely on the sea for all their life aspect. They swim from stilt house to stilt house or they sometimes use boats, they live for and thanks to the sea, taking from it but also giving back to it. They survive by harvesting and trading rare pink pearls that have impressing healing properties and that can only be found in their area. But the oysters containing the pearls are getting scarce and the divers have to take more risks, putting themselves closer to the danger of the deadly blood corals that are giving the pearls their colour and proprieties. In addition to that, the price of the pearls has recently drastically dropped and the people of Varenia are struggling to meet ends, growing poorer and hungrier.
Nor sees her father getting skinnier, and his ribs are more visible each day, and she has only one hope left. It’s a tradition that has always existed, every generation the most beautiful girl of Varenia is chosen and send to Ilara to wed the Prince and becoming the next Queen, in exchange, her family will never ask for anything ever again. Nor and her identical twin sister Zadie have been raised for this all their life, however, after an accident including blood coral which Nor barely survived, she ended up being scared on the face, ruining her chance to be chosen. For Nor, this scar is both a blessing and a malediction. She is happy that after this incident, her mother stopped putting her daughter in competitions and that she was able to grow in harmony with her sister, and she is sad because being chosen was her only chance to fulfil her need to escape her village and see the world.
“I often consoled myself with the fact that if I didn’t have my scar, Zadie and I would have spent our lives competing with each other. The idea of viewing my sister as an obstacle, rather than my best friend, was unthinkable.”
The inevitable happens; the elders choose Zadie to be the prince’s betrothed and everything is as it should be. However, quiet and docile Zadie confesses to her sister that doesn’t want to go, she is in love with their childhood best friend, Sami, and this love is reciprocal. Zadie is willing to go desperate lengths stay home with her lover, her family and the sea. One night, a couple of days before her official departure, she deliberately hurts herself with a jellyfish her in order to scar a part of her body large enough to force the elders to change their decision. Having already communicated a portrait of Zadie, the leaders have no other choice than sending Nor, with a pot of cream to hide her scar, under the guise of being Zadie to take her place as upcoming Queen. And so Nor goes, determined to relate to the current King the dire situation in which is her people and to convince him to help them
I was honestly blown away by the world-building of this book and the pacing was close to perfection and those two points didn’t seem like those of a debut novel for me. I’m a sucker for everything sea-related and I was in awe in front of the descriptions, the legends and the culture of Varenia. It was so vivid I actually felt like I was there. How the girls spend time in the water, swimming, hunting for pearls, taking the boat to go see their friends, getting up early to see the sunrise, jumping from their patio straight to the sea, the dangers of the sea and how they are prepared since young age, their clothing habit (up to the point of their habits of walking around barefooted)… It was so developed, I feel like there was nothing missing to make me feel like I lived there as well.
“I took a few moments to slow my heart rate down as well as my breathing. Staying underwater for long periods of time required concentration and calm. […] I filled my lungs with air and dived, this time a little farther to the left of the blood coral, which was surrounded by nothing but bones. Even the fish knew to stay away from it.”
All this made the contrast with New Castle stand out even more. The fortress carved directly in the mountain, with no light, no warmth made me feel as trapped as Nor felt. I love how the sun was associated with health and longevity whereas the people living inside the dark castle looked tired, aged and weak. It made Prince Ceren’s obsession with the pink pearls easy to understand and his fear of early death so relatable. His insecurities are legitimate, however, I wished he would have been written as a more grey character, and I felt like I was feeling for him only because his anxieties were close to mines. The two things that were a real problem for me were the ending that I found rushed and a bit deus-ex-machina, and the insta-love that drastically diminished the impact of this book’s message for me. This book is supposed to be about Nor emancipating herself from the importance of beauty, embracing her imperfections and celebrating all kind of beauties. And yet, Nor’s feeling for the love interest seems to be driven solely by his beauty and ‘sea-blue eyes’.
Nor was a strong-willed, independent and capable character and I really enjoyed reading from her point of view, nonetheless when the love interest was around Nor was acting immature and out of character, forgetting her lifelong goals and making the worst decisions. That’s being said, I have to insist on my favourite part of this book –after the world-building– and that is the pristine exploitation of the twin bond. It’s always difficult to write about twins, to give them both an identity without being caricatural and to always be reminded when the other half of this duo is away. Mara did perfectly well here, the twin sister was not a plot purpose, it was carved in Nor’s journey, all the time. Nor and Zadie had polar personalities and yet were two sides of the same coin. Sometimes it reminded me of Fred and George Weasley and that’s the best compliment I can ever give to any author. I have so many beautiful quotes about it and I decided to select my favourite, to finish and a sweet note:
“Nor and Zadie. Coral and Pearl.
Powerful and beautiful because of each other, not in spite of each other.”
“If I were prettier, it meant she was uglier, and a compliment at my sister’s expense was no compliment at all.”
“You have been everything for me,” she said, her voice thick with emotion. “My arms when I wasn’t permitted to row, my legs when I wasn’t permitted to dive. My lips when I couldn’t defend myself from Mother. Now I need you to be my hands, Nor.”
“Ebb has suggested cutting [my hair] to make it more manageable, but I wouldn’t allow more than a trim. I knew that Zadie would never cut her hair, and I didn’t want to look different from my sister. My reflection in the mirror would be the only way I had to watch her grow old.”
Have you read or will you read this book?
What did you think about it?