*I received a free copy of The First Crown novelette via Kevin Potter’s Magic Through the Ages event. I subsequently purchased The Tainted Crown of my own volition.*
The First Crown: A Caledan Novelette – Meg Cowley
Blurb: It’s easy to kill a man. It’s hard to kill a dragon. Is it impossible to kill a god?
Bahr, the god of Fire and War, is terrorising the land, annihilating men, Eldarkind and dragons alike. Nothing can stand before him and Beren, chief amongst men, faces everything he loves being lost to Bahr’s fickle fires.
After witnessing Bahr’s devastating power, Beren despairs, until the mysterious king of the Eldarkind offers him one glimmer of hope – but it comes at great cost. To have any chance of success, Beren must have faith in the enigmatic Eldarkind, set aside his lifelong differences with the dragons, and place his trust in the enemy who has destroyed his home and family. Unless he does so, they are all doomed.
As Bahr’s vengeful eye turns to their hostile alliance, their differences threaten to divide man, Eldarkind, and dragon. Can Beren forge the strongest allies from his bitterest enemies before Bahr destroys them all?
The First Crown is the novelette prequel to the Caledan series, of which The Tainted Crown is the first novel. It tells the history of a pact between warring races in order to defeat a greater threat, and as an introduction to Meg Cowley’s writing it couldn’t be better.
The story is well-paced with plenty of action and excitement, but with enough narrative detail to not feel too rushed. The story she tells here fits perfectly in the novelette form and stands alone as a great quick fantasy read. Of course, it does end on a teaser which leads neatly into the first book of the main series…
The Tainted Crown: The First Book of Caledan – Meg Cowley
Blurb: What is the price of kingship?
The kingdom of Caledan is thrown into turmoil by the queen’s murder. Her heir, Soren, flees with a price on his head after being framed for the killing by his uncle Zaki, who seizes the legendary throne of the Dragon Kings and rules with an iron fist to crush dissent. However, suspicion is rife following Zaki’s ill-omened coronation and a crime ill-fitting the beloved Prince Soren.
Now a fugitive roaming the wild, Soren has lost everything. He tries to reconcile his grief and determine how he can reclaim his throne when fate has left him with just one old man, but the odds are greatly against him. If no-one follows him, or believes his innocence, is he worthy to rule?
Across the kingdom, Soren’s cousin Eve takes matters into her own hands and journeys to the ethereal Eldarkind on his behalf, however this reveals her own inescapable fate. As she comes to terms with the gift and the curse of magic, Eve risks her life to help Soren.
Before the fragile peace shatters, can Soren reclaim the throne – and should he?
The Tainted Crown dives straight into a new conflict: betrayal and usurption, blood and violence. The narrative splits into two threads, with two main protaganists and the divergent threads mirror each other neatly: Prince Soren, on the run, seeking allies with the legends of his homeland in a fiery, desolate waste; Lady Eve, escaping her bounds, seeking allies with the legends of her estranged family in an light, airy idyll.
Of course there are battles, and magic, and dragons galore. The antagonist, Zaki, is so evil he brings to mind the classic vizier trope (always best portrayed for me by Jafar in Disney’s Aladdin!). The ostensible main quest is for Soren to win back his crown, and for love to trump politics for Eve, but the reader (especially the reader who has also devoured The First Crown novelette) is very aware that there is much more at stake than the character’s happiness, freedom, or even the peace of the kingdom. There is a bigger, overarching evil looming that will put usurper Zaki’s machinations into stark perspective.
There are some lovely unique touches: my particular favourite was the dragon throne. I love the idea of a rulership needing to be legitimised by a higher authority, but it also opened up interesting questions for me about what morality that authority is based on, whether it is infallible etc. I also loved the foray into the retreat of the Eldarkind (the Celedanian equivalent of an elven race), the exploration of their magical powers and their societal structure. The only slight gripe is that they are almost TOO perfect (and therefore a little bit smug/sanctimonious?). In comparison the dragons have more ‘humanity’ in them, with their sibling bickers and youthful rebellions.
Another nice touch is the ‘army’ that Soren raises to retake his throne. I don’t want to drop a spoiler here, so I will just say that I really liked the confirmation that it isn’t just mystical signs and legends that make a true leader, but their relationship with the kingdom and the people therein.
This is obviously the first novel in a series, so it doesn’t end neatly wrapped up with a bow on, but there is a conclusion to the shorter plot arcs explored, whilst leaving the threads trailing for the next novel to catch hold of. I do recommend reading The First Crown first (stating the obvious perhaps!)…it’s well-written and provides so much context for what is to come. Overall a great start to what I hope will be a long new series for my shelves!
If I ever want to see my sister again; if I ever want to live without constant fear of my safety in exile; if I want to be sure that the kingdom is in the hands of one who will respect and protect it, then I have no choice. It has to be me.
– Meg Cowley, The Tainted Crown