by Deborah Chester
Cover Artist: Matt Stawicki
Review by Mel Jacob
Ace Mass Market Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441016570
Date: 25 November 2008 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Deborah Chester concludes The Pearls and the Crown series with The Crown and a climatic battle between good and evil. In The Pearls, Shadrael, the shadow warrior, abducted Princess Lea, dedicated to light and harmony with all things. He represents evil she abhors. As a shadow warrior, he acquired black magic that enabled him to sever the threads of men's lives. He plans to trade her to the Vindicants, disgraced priests of Beloth, the god of darkness and shadow, for the soul he lost.
Shadrael lost his soul and now casts no shadow; he swore allegiance to Beloth. The eventual fate of such men is madness and death. Despite his weakened and damaged state, he retains his fighting skills and can still open the Hidden Way, a place of shadow and evil, to travel great distances hidden from enemies. However, as his control of magic weakens, the distances grow shorter.
Lea's tears are pearls, and her friends the element spirits give her jewels as gifts. Others covet these treasures. She has an enchanted emerald necklace that magnifies her powers. Shadrael confiscates it, but its powers sap his shadow magic.
The novel opens with Shadrael's rat-tag ruffians taunting Lea. They make a game of fondling her and stealing kisses. She defends herself, but one catches her. Shadrael returns and kills the man. He allows her brief freedom to relieve herself. When a young Cloven, similar to traditional elves, appears, she begs him to send her brother a message about her capture and whereabouts. Shadrael appears and slays the young man. Heartbroken, Lea struggles with guilt for causing the death.
Shadrael's brother, the Warlord of Ulinia, wants Lea to use as a pawn against her brother, Caelan Light Bringer, the emperor, and funds Shadrael's men. Struggling against his decline, Shadrael grows desperate to deliver Lea to the Vindicants instead of his brother and claim the soul they have promised him.
The Vindicants want to regain power and destroy Caelan. They also seek to restore their diseased leader. They plan to use Lea to accomplish both goals. They need her breath and blood.
Her protector, Thirbe, has tracked Lea since her capture and plans to free her. He encounters one obstacle after another. Grit and an Ulinian he holds captive lead him to the Vindicant camp. He knows Lea lies nearby ill and in danger. Before he can act, someone strikes him down.
Family relations provide ample motives. Caelan wants to recover Lea. His wife, Elandra, wants to recover her mad half-sister Bixia. Shadrael's brother Vordachai wants to save him. The shifting relationship between Shadrael and his brother enriches the novel.
Political intrigue and murders abound. The body count rises. For most of his life, Shadrael has hated and fought Caelan who stripped him of his rank and position. Yet Caelan is brother to the woman he loves.
Lea and Shadrael stumble from victory to capture, but they refuse to allow defeat to destroy them and the love between them grows leading to self-sacrifice. A few inconsistencies occur. Vindicants control evil magic and can read minds, but they fail to read Lea and Shadrael at critical times. Caelan's ending characterization of Lea seems at odds with his earlier view.
The early part of the novel drags, but picks up pace after the first quarter. The skirmishes and battle scenes offer plenty of excitement. Chester leaves some events unexplained. She uses her familiar world well and is certain to continue to mine it for future novels.