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REVIEW: The Cursed Crown – Matthew S. Cox

The Cursed Crown - Matthew S. Cox

Genre: YA, Fantasy

Reviewer: H.L.

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About The Book

In the wake of a twenty-year war, the people of Lucernia struggle to believe their former enemies aren’t demon-loving savages. However, that’s easy compared to the more alarming change: accepting their nation now has two queens.

Many citizens in a land devoted to the God of Purity view the love between Kitlyn and Oona as unnatural, but the young women have earned guarded acceptance in the wake of their heroic deeds. Alas, unrest stirs in the shadows. Worse, Oona thinks the Talomir family line is cursed. All who have worn the crown before her have met with untimely deaths.

Much work lies ahead for the new queens in helping the kingdom recover from a conflict older than its rulers. The people are restless and hurting, trust in the crown is tenuous, and the king of Evermoor demands reparations. That two women should love each other may be the last little piece to hurl the nation into rebellion.

Mysterious forces attacking towns close to the border with Evermoor stoke tensions even further, threatening a relapse to war. Their crowns not even warm, Kitlyn and Oona set off to find the source of the raids and stabilize the nation… hoping to stay ahead of an ancient curse.

The Review

This review contains spoilers for The Eldritch Heart. If you haven’t read the first book yet and you’re interested in a low-fantasy lesbian romance book, check out my review for The Eldritch Heart first.

The Cursed Crown, the second book in Matthew Cox’s Eldritch Heart YA lesbian fantasy series, picks up where the first book concluded, the readers having been treated to some shocking twists and revelations. Princess Oona Talomir was revealed to in fact not be King Talomir’s daughter – but instead a magically-gifted peasant child bought from her mother to be used as a decoy daughter and princess, bait for assassins and a distraction from the true princess. Kitlyn, the mistreated servant and Oona’s handmaiden/love interest of the first book, is King Talomir’s true daughter – and therefore, the true princess and future Queen.

With the King being stripped of his title and sentenced for his corruption and crimes in prolonging a pointless war with the neighbouring country, causing thousands of deaths across 25 years, Kitlyn and Oona have risen in his place and become heroes of their country. They are finally able to be together – not just as women in love, but as wedded wives and Queens despite the lingering societal judgements of their same-sex union, and are beginning to right the wrongs of the past.

I am very pleased that the issues I had with the first book, such as the long meandering first half and the erratic characterisation of the female characters, have been resolved. This installment feels, overall, far more refined: better-written, thoroughly edited, and tightly paced, making it a far more engaging read from the start. The language is also greatly improved – the characters speak like actual people, and there was no terrible phonetic faux-Cockney accents! 

On the character side of things, Oona is still a highly emotional character, but the writing and her character has matured greatly since the events of the first book. In the first instance, she (and Kitlyn) feels more true to a female reader, with her experiences a lot more relatable in this book. She has developed a relationship with her younger long-lost sister, Evie, who is a delightful addition to the cast, which has grown in both size and emotional depth since the first book. Despite the terrible impact of Talomir’s lies, I was impressed with the portrayal of her strained, but still caring, relationship with her false father – and I was equally impressed by Kitlyn’s ruthlessness regarding his fate. 

Kitlyn’s experiences have forged her into a capable young ruler. She’s on a sharp learning curve with the unfamiliar royal protocol and expectations. She may be the rightful Queen, but there are still structures in place for how things have been done – and even though she may be inexperienced, she has strong ideas for the country she didn’t know was her birthright to rule (or as she rightly recognises, to serve). 

As in the first story, the relation between the two young women – now wives and Queens – is one of the book’s greatest strengths. No longer caught in the cycle of angsty mutual pining and free of their insecurities and fears of each other’s rejection, they are able to love each other confidently and proudly – while still mature enough to recognise that society hasn’t quite caught up to them.

The worldbuilding is also much better-integrated in this book, woven into the narrative, so we are shown through actions and interactions how the society works. It supports the book’s pacing, which begins with the day-to-day politics as did the first installment, but much more engaging. It was a good choice on the author’s part to start the book steadily and focus on clearing the debris from the previous book, to pave the way for the next chapter in Kitlyn’s and Oona’s lives.

The Cursed Crown balances the narrative with compelling questions and analysis of the complicated intersection of religion and politics, faith and dogma. It is handled in a fresh and interesting way via Oona and Kitlyn navigating the post-war world, still trapped by the deceptions of the previous administration, which they have inherited. 

I have a small criticism for the inaccuracies regarding corsets, which are described as cinching the girls’ waists so tightly that they cannot breathe, akin to torture, several times in the book. Historically speaking, corsets were not torture devices, but more like supportive back braces and comfortable pieces. But even I’ve made this mistake in the past!

In this delightful second installment in the Eldritch Heart series, Matthew S. Cox accomplishes a well-paced and enjoyable YA read that corrects the issues of the first book, and progresses an interesting narrative that places the pure love of two women front and centre. I greatly look forward to reading the next book in the series.

The Reviewer

H. L. is a Australian writer of LGBT+ fiction. She holds a Master of Arts in International Relations (2015) and a Bachelor of Media in Communications and Journalism (2012), both from the University of New South Wales.

She is a lesbian of Jewish and of Middle Eastern (Egyptian) heritage and is an #OwnVoices writer. She has been writing stories since she was old enough to hold a pen. She is the author of M/M fantasy romance novels Heart Of Dust and Soul Of Ash, Books 1 & 2 of the Death’s Embrace series.

She has had two speculative short stories published: “The Collector” in the 2014 Future Times Award Collection A Tick Tock Heart, and “Entente” in the 2020 Twisted Stories Award Collection Just Alice.