Crown of Coral and Pearl
by Mara Rutherford
384pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.9/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.94/5

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Sometimes I wonder if it was our names that determined our fates, or the other way around. Nor and Zadie: coral and pearl. Both precious to our people, both beautiful enough to adorn the necks of queens. But whereas a pearl is prized for its luster, its shape, its lack of imperfections, coral is different. It grows twisted. In its natural form, it can hardly be considered beautiful at all.

I read Crown of Coral and Pearl, Mara Rutherford’s first novel, around the time I first started struggling to get into any books a few months ago because, you know, 2020. The opening lines quoted above made me curious about the two sisters mentioned, and although I never found it to be an especially immersive book, it was easy to focus on despite my difficulty concentrating (even if I did end up thinking the first part was better than the second and didn’t find it all that memorable overall).

This YA fantasy novel is told from the first person perspective of Nor, who dreams of one day seeing more of the world than her ocean village. But no one leaves their home—except for the one chosen to wed the prince once every generation, and everyone knows that girl will be her beautiful twin sister, Zadie. Although the two are practically identical in appearance, Nor has had a visible scar since the day she saved her sister from drowning and had a face-first brush with some blood coral.

Zadie is indeed selected to marry the next king, but after she is injured, Nor is given some cream to use to cover her scar and sent in the guise of her twin. And in the dark, forbidding castle, Nor learns more about the kingdom and its past—and its ties to problems that have been developing in her village.

Although I never found the worldbuilding convincing, I did rather like the image of the ocean village with stilt-legged houses sitting above the water and boats drifting between buildings and out to sea so residents could dive for dinner or pearls to sell. It was, at least, a setting unlike others I’ve encountered, and it’s also where the relationship between the two sisters and the impact of their beauty-obsessed culture on the village’s girls is explored. The twins’ mother spent her adult years bitter that she was not chosen to be the next queen, and this affected the sisters’ childhoods in every way. They were kept from befriending other girls their mother viewed as potential rivals, and Nor thinks it’s a blessing she and her twin remained best friends, knowing that if she had not been scarred their mother would have constantly pitted them against each other.

Once Nor left the ocean village for her future husband’s windowless mountainside castle, I found the story became much blander since it lacked the setting that made it a bit different and the strong bond between the sisters that added some life. Most of the characters were just kind of there, including the kind younger prince Nor was attracted to, and the only character who had any real depth was the cold prince that Nor-as-Zadie was supposed to marry. The novel delved a bit into the upbringing and circumstances that shaped him, his actions were not always predictable, and he had clear goals and ambitions—even if they were evil. This made him by far the most interesting character and the best developed other than Nor herself, but I also felt he was more intriguing in theory than execution and was disappointed by the end.

Crown of Coral and Pearl was readable enough that I finished it, but the more I read, the less engaging I found it. Given the lackluster ending and that it was never more than mildly entertaining, I’m not interested in reading the sequel coming out later this year.

My Rating: 5/10

Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from a publicist.