Servant of the Crown by Melissa McShane
"Alison Quinn, Countess of Waxwold, is content with her bookish life—until she’s summoned to be a lady-in-waiting to the Queen of Tremontane’s mother for six months. Even the prospect of access to the Royal Library doesn’t seem enough to make up for her sacrifice, but Alison is prepared to do her service to the Crown. What she’s not prepared for is Prince Anthony North, Queen Zara’s playboy brother, who’s accustomed to getting what he wants—including the Countess of Waxwold.
When the fallout from an unfortunate public encounter throws the two of them together, Alison has no interest in becoming the Prince’s next conquest. But as the weeks pass, Alison discovers there’s more to Anthony than she—or he—realized, and their dislike becomes friendship, and then something more—until disaster drives Alison away, swearing never to return.
Then Alison is summoned by the Queen again, this time to serve as Royal Librarian. A threat to Tremontane’s government, with her treasured Library at stake, draws Alison into the conflict…and into contact with Anthony once more. Can they work together to save the Royal Library and Tremontane? And can she open her heart to love again?" (from Goodreads)
The subject: Alison, the Countess of Waxwold, as she navigates the political challenges of being Royal Librarian, and the emotional challenges of falling in love.
The setting: the kingdom of Tremontane, and in particular, the palace there. I kinda liked that we were shown the decisions Alison had to make around running a Royal Library; while it wasn't especially thrilling, it was neat that these daily realities were considered.
Shutter speed: Unpredictable. The first third or so of the book focuses on the romance, and was paced pretty well. But then that storyline comes to a halt (given something that Alison finds out), and the next two-thirds are mostly about Alison taking on the position of Royal Librarian and the political consequences of that. Perhaps it was because I ended up reading this book in multiple sittings (and taking long breaks in between, which I think was less about the book and more about my own mood at the time) but I didn't feel that the political storyline held my interest as much as the relationship one. This focus on the politics of Alison running the Royal Library also means that the ending we eventually get to the romantic storyline didn't feel so satisfying.
I also wish that the non-romantic storyline had been bigger in scope. While the fact that the plot was primarily political meant that it was quite realistic (for a fantasy novel), it also meant that I didn't find it really engaging.
What's in the background? A fantasy world that we end up knowing virtually nothing about, sadly. There was very little description of the setting, and oh, how I wish the magic system had been explored! Magic gets used to heal people, and also to power "Devices" (technology), and there's something called a "family bond" that seems like it could be magical... but the reader only gets these teasing tidbits. Why bother making it a fantasy novel if you're not going to play around with the magical aspects of the world?
Zoom in on: Zara! She was by far my favourite character. I mean, Alison was an alright protagonist (although kinda hung up on the whole 'guys only compliment me because of my looks' thing) and I liked the fact that Anthony undergoes character development, but Zara was just awesome from the start and stayed that way. She's a very commanding character (not too surprising, considering she's the queen), and clever — able and willing to manipulate things to suit what she wants to get done. However, she is also fair, ultimately wanting justice to win out, even if her means are sometimes questionable. She is clearly dedicated to her work. While she's not particularly physically or verbally affectionate — I'd say she's efficient with her words, to the point of being curt or abrupt at times — she obviously cares about the people in her life.
Anything out of focus? I think the climactic scene could have been a lot more effective if the revelations hadn't been so confusingly explained. In particular, the whole subplot involving Anthony's reputation (spoiler, highlight to read: that an ex-lover of his was claiming her child was his, and that he had known this but had refused to acknowledge it) was resolved in a way that left me scratching my head going, "Huh?" and re-reading that bit in the hopes it would clear things up (unfortunately, it didn't). I also still don't really get what the point of Zara's little scheme was (spoiler: she voted in favour of funding the endowment to the Scholia, I guess to lure the Scholia into a false sense of security...but I'm not too sure how that helped all that much?).
Also, I sometimes found the dialogue a little on the dry, boring side, since there were a lot of conversations revolving around the political machinations going on.
Ready? Say... Royal Library!
Click! 3 shooting stars. Servant of the Crown's premise had a lot of potential, but the end result was a little disappointing for me.
Disclaimer: I received this e-book from the author for review.