Review: Cruel Crown by Victoria Aveyard (Red Queen, #0.1 & #0.2)

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four-and-a-half-stars

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Two women on either side of the Silver-Red divide tell the stories no one else knows.

Discover the truth of Norta’s bloody past in these two revealing prequels to #1 New York Times bestseller Red Queen.

Queen Song
Queen Coriane, first wife of King Tiberias, keeps a secret diary—how else can she ensure that no one at the palace will use her thoughts against her? Coriane recounts her heady courtship with the crown prince, the birth of a new prince, Cal, and the potentially deadly challenges that lay ahead for her in royal life.

Steel Scars
Diana Farley was raised to be strong, but being tasked with planting the seeds of rebellion in Norta is a tougher job than expected. As she travels the land recruiting black market traders, smugglers, and extremists for her first attempt at an attack on the capital, she stumbles upon a connection that may prove to be the key to the entire operation—Mare Barrow.

I’ll say it now: Cruel Crown was the explosive bomb of beauty that I wanted Red Queen to be. I knew that Aveyard had the gift, but hey, debut novels tend to be shaky.

Although it’s technically just a pair of novellas, Cruel Crown’s well-written contents have propelled it near the top of my favorites list. Reading Cruel Crown, I got everything I’ve ever wanted from a book: real emotions, developed characters, intricate worldbuilding, and the literary knife into my heart that means the author’s actually managed to make me dedicated to her characters.

I went into Cruel Crown like this:

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And came out of it like this…

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I’m not a beach reader, not one who reads books for fun. I read them to see if they make me feel something. Cruel Crown did the job.

My emotions were stabbed, repeatedly, leaving numerous bloody holes behind that still need healing. And that’s exactly what I want from my books; as a reader, I search and search to the ends of the universe for the worlds that will hurt me most.

Cruel Crown consists of two novellas: Queen Song and Steel Scars. I’ll dedicate a piece of the review to each.

Queen Song

My favorite of the two. Queen Song tells the story of Coriane Jacos, Julian’s younger sister who fell in love with the young Prince Tiberias, married him and bore his sweet summer child: Cal. Admittedly, I’ve wanted to know more about Queen Coriane ever since Julian first told Mare about her.

This novella follows Coriane from her days at the languishing family estate to her bloody, untimely end. She and Julian are the last children of the singer line; with that comes great responsibility, so Coriane and Julian move to court with Coriane’s best friend–skin healer Sara Skonos. Coriane is just 15 years old at the time.

At court, Coriane meets the cunning Elara Merandus along with dozens of other High House children (and their equally treacherous parents) who are vying for closeness to the crown.

I’m not going to give anything else away, but let me just say this.

The first few pages made me care about Coriane; the last made me want to rip my heart out, it hurt so much. Queen Song is a dark little story that captivated me due to its harsh sincerity and fascinating protagonist.

Also, before I move on: Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion…but several of the reviews for Queen Song are just irritating. It’s fine to not like a book, but I’ve seen so many complaints that Coriane was a ‘weak’ character, that she deserved what she got, that she was whiny, that Elara was so much stronger than her, etc. There are many things very, very wrong with that mindset.

Coriane is just 15 when she meets Tiberias, and she’s 16 upon marrying him. She was told her entire life that nothing she did was ever good enough. She was depressed to begin with. Her true passions were not encouraged and her family was relentlessly mocked and lied to. Coriane’s grown up with no mother, a disappointing father, and a critical old cousin. Most importantly: she’s still a child. 15, for crying out loud. Those who are calling a vulnerable child weak: Do you know how silly that makes you look?

Do you think fracking Elara Merandus just burst out of the womb with her confidence and strength? She was groomed since the day she could talk. Her house was in HIGH ESTEEM and extremely wealthy, the opposite of Coriane’s situation. She was told that she could do anything from the moment she first practiced her power.

The reality is that a lot of young teenagers struggle with depression. Thousands of them are just like Coriane (minus the supernatural power).

We need to do away with the notion that a female can only be strong if she lets nothing hurt her, if she’s constantly on the offensive, if she works her ass off every day, if she always tries to be the best. No. That’s not how it works. Coriane is strong in her own way, which might not be obvious when she’s compared to fully realized heroines who’ve had supportive mentors and time to hone their abilities.

Calling a young girl weak because she struggles from depression–and eventual madness that was not her fault, but the doing of another–is stupid even if that girl is a fictional character. Every woman is strong. Some just don’t see it yet; they haven’t realized their worth. And I feel like it’s really counterproductive to dismiss a character as weak because she wasn’t bold enough for you.

Newsflash: the strongest people have had to go through a shitload of terrible experiences, wherein they were depressed and hopeless and not as cool, to get to where they are now.

The fact that Coriane never got a chance to do that, because she was MURDERED for night’s sake, makes her story all the more tragic.

So, yeah, call Cal’s mother weak if you want. But I’ll fight you on it till my dying breath.

morgana-fighting

Steel Scars

Steel Scars follows Farley and her operations in the Scarlet Guard before she met Mare Barrow. Those who’ve read Red Queen might remember Farley as the badass blonde chick with a fierce determination (and even fiercer scars). Yep, that’s the one.

I’ve taken off half a star because Steel Scars wasn’t a 5-star work. Nothing wrong with the storyline or characters, but I just wasn’t quite as invested in this one.

It was interesting to read about the Scarlet Guard–turns out, this group goes deeper than I ever thought, with locations in different countries and cities plus an admirable secret-keeping system. Oh, and I was delighted to find out that Farley isn’t the Scarlet Guard’s supreme leader after all.

Farley’s character development is more firmly fleshed out. This chick’s not just a bloodthirsty revolutionary; she’s got a past (duh), feelings, and a hunger to prove herself. Farley’s a witty young girl underneath all the bravado.

Steel Scars takes you from Harbor Bay to the Stilts; oh, and you may meet a few recognizable characters along the way.

The Verdict:

I think I’ve made my opinions pretty clear. I do recommend Cruel Crown to fans and/or casual readers of Red Queen.

(If you haven’t read Red Queen, you should peruse that book first–otherwise this novella probably won’t make sense. These are prequels to add more information to a previously explained story, so don’t expect any introductions. Cruel Crown dives right in. It’s really not fair to say that “you had no idea what was going on,” blaming it on the book when you never read its predecessor.)

Try Cruel Crown if you enjoy any of the following literary flavors:

  • sci-fi/fantasy fiction
  • magical powers
  • political upheaval
  • female protagonists

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