Cruel Crown is the bind-up of Queensong and Steel Scars, two novellas by Victoria Aveyard that take place in the Red Queen world. As companion novellas tend to do, both tell the stories of secondary or behind-the-scenes characters and events that readers are introduced to in the books but never get to know very well.
Before I continue, I’d like to include two warnings. First: I listened to this bind-up on audiobook, which is useful for passing time in my car, but I have to admit audio books are not my favorite, primarily because A.) I can’t see how things are spelled, and B.) The reader’s voice becomes an intrinsic influence to the story that I will never be able to unassociate. I will try to be as objective as possible here, but there are some things that I might think a little differently about by virtue of having “read” these books via CD. Second: If you have not yet read Glass Sword, there are some spoilers in this article!
Let’s start with Queensong. This novella tells the story of Coriane Jacos Calore, who died years before the events of Red Queen when Cal (one of the main characters in the series) was two years old. Queensong is told from Coriane’s point of view, and follows her over a span of years from her first arrival at court, her friendship with Prince Tiberias VI (Cal’s father), their romance, and the first few years of Cal’s life.
This was an incredibly sad story, made even more bitter by the fact that it should have been a happy one. It should have been a story about an unlikely young girl who befriends a prince, falls in love, marries him against all odds, and has a beautiful baby in a beautiful palace and lives a beautiful life. Instead, Coriane was never trusted because of her family’s status as singers (Silvers who are able to manipulate people’s thoughts and actions through their words). Furthermore, she was the object of intense jealousy from the other noble young ladies who should have had a chance to compete in the traditional trial to be the prince’s wife. Coriane’s mental health deteriorates in a heartbreakingly fast spiral throughout the story, resulting ultimately in her death.
The woman who read this story for the audiobook had a very soft, melancholy voice and inflection, so it is likely that her voice made the story seem especially sad to me, but there is no denying that the novella tugs at a person’s heartstrings. I liked Queensong because it created a more fleshed-out idea of Cal’s family and background, and because it was so beautifully, infuriatingly sad. It dealt with characters that we see in the Red Queen novels but don’t spend a lot of time getting to know there, so it was nice to be able to see them up close and in a different context.
Steel Scars also begins before the events of Red Queen, though there is some overlap. I was not as satisfied with this novella as I was with Queensong (although the woman who read this story for the audiobook had a British accent, so that was a fun way to forever alter a few of the characters’ voices in my head!). I have said before (in my review of Glass Sword) that I have trouble picturing Farley and Shade in a romantic relationship. While there were a number of things happening in Steel Sars, it felt to me as though its primary purpose was to round out that romance, which just didn’t work for me–I still struggle to understand them as a couple.
Farley is the main character in this novella, and the story follows her on her mission to gather information about the movements of the Nortan army of unwilling Reds. Farley and her team meet Shade on the way, and he becomes an informant for them–until he is discovered by the Silvers and forced to flee along with the Scarlet Guard team.
The story itself was interesting enough, but it was punctuated with messages from one member of the Scarlet Guard to another. These were hard to understand on the audiobook because they were so formal and “encoded,” and while they contained useful information, it almost felt too interruptive to the story. Because the novella is centered on Farley and the Scarlet Guard, it is of course more focused on military movements than the novels are, which can make for dry reading. This novella wasn’t as exciting as Aveyard’s other works usually are, and I probably could have gone without reading it and been just fine. Still, I think it could be enjoyable for other readers, especially those who are currently residing in the Red Queen fandom.
As a whole, Cruel Crown is my least favorite of all Aveyard’s publications thus far, because Aveyard has set the bar so high for herself! (Seriously, the novels are maybe a bit cliché but seriously beautiful.) Cruel Crown contains interesting and useful information for understanding some of the background of the Red Queen novels, and overall I have been very satisfied with the series thus far.
Aveyard is scheduled to publish another book in the series sometime in 2018. I am definitely planning on reading and reviewing this yet-untitled installment as well! In the meantime, I should probably re-read and review Red Queen itself, because this is just getting ridiculous.
What about you, fellow readers? What do you think of the Red Queen books? Was Queensong as sad for you as it was for me? Did you enjoy the behind-the-scenes explanations in Steel Scars? Comment and share below!