In an alternate history where Merlin still protects the English monarchy, Marie-Victoire is heir to the most powerful empire in the world. Aelwyn Myrddyn, her childhood friend, is destined to be Merlin’s successor. Both feel trapped by their circumstances. Aelwyn will always be in the shadows behind the throne, subsuming herself in the service of the kingdom while Marie is set to be married off to a prince she does not even like in order to secure the peace. Then Marie comes up with a plan that will allow her to follow her heart and Aelwyn to move out of the shadows and onto center stage. But to do so would be treason. Add in a dashing younger brother to the despised prince, a social-climbing New York socialite seeking a rich husband, and a spurned French princess and you have a frothy romance set against a backdrop of royal pageantry and magic.
The concept behind this book is fascinating. There’s a lot of potential for exploring rebellion against societal expectations and following one’s dreams. But in the end, the book doesn’t live up to its promise. The pacing is a bit off. Too much time is spent setting up the various characters and their situations so that the end seems rushed. What little action there is takes place very quickly, without detail or elaboration. It felt as if the book spent ages building up to a great climax, which then happened so quickly that if you aren’t paying attention you could almost miss it. Then the explanation for everything seemed to come out of the blue.
While several of the characters have sexual encounters, none are really positive experiences. In fact, one character is not only pressured into sex, but it turns out has also been raped by her guardian. So this light, fluffy romance has decidedly dark undertones. No one gets a truly happy ending, though the two main characters are strong young women intent on facing the demands of their positions on their own terms.
Flawed though this book is, it is certain to have a wide audience. Fans of descriptions of courtly life and gorgeous ball gowns will find much to enjoy. In that respect, this book definitely lives up to its gorgeous cover. Did I mention that the cover is truly amazing?
Rating: three and a half stars