Servant of the Crown: Romantic fantasy with a twist

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsServant of the Crown by Melissa McShane fantasy book reviewsServant of the Crown by Melissa McShane

Servant of the Crown is a steampunk-flavored young adult romantic fantasy by Melissa McShane, published in July 2015. It is set in a well-imagined Victorian-era type of world where magic plays a lesser and socially suspect role. Alison, the young Countess of Waxwold, is summoned from her city to be a lady-in-waiting to the Dowager Consort of the kingdom for six months. This seems like a prison sentence to Alison, who enjoys her work in the budding printing industry and as a theater patroness, has no taste for court or social games, and no inclination to “sit around in an uncomfortable dress and keep the former Consort company” for half a year. But the royal summons from the queen cannot be gainsaid, so Alison grits her teeth and heads to the capital city of Aurilien, consoling herself with the thought that at least she’ll have access to the famous royal library with its vast collection of rare books.

Trouble begins when the Dowager gives her son, Prince Anthony North, a well-intentioned suggestion to dance with Alison at the first ball she attends. North is drop-dead good-looking and knows it, and during their dance makes a rather drunken indecent suggestion to Alison. He picked the wrong girl. Alison, who has a very sour taste in her mouth from prior romances where she found the men wanted her only for her title, wealth and/or looks, immediately slaps him across the face and storms off. Unfortunately for both Alison and North, this causes a minor sensation, and Queen Zara, the Prince’s sister, orders the two of them to go on public dates once a week until the scandal dies down.

So far Servant of the Crown reads like a straight fantasy romance, although it has more well-developed and complex characters than usual. But when the main characters’ choices and natures lead to a crisis halfway through, it is followed by some surprising but logical turns in the plot that lead the reader down some unexpected pathways. These developments raise this novel above the typical romance and make it well worth recommending to readers who enjoy reading romances that are more thoughtfully written.

Early-technology “Devices” like printing presses and lights are powered by the magical battery-like “motive forces,” giving a steampunk feel to this world. The vast royal library is almost a character in itself, with unexpected literary treasures hidden in neglected shelves. It becomes the linchpin in a political battle for power between the Queen and the powerful group scholars who have been running the library and other governmental agencies, with Alison and her assistants caught in the crossfire.

This is a fairly light but thoughtful fantasy novel that combines a clean romance with some compelling political intrigue and royal court maneuvering. I’ve read many self-published novels in the last few years, but Melissa McShane’s fantasies are complex, layered and well written, making her one of the very few self-published authors whose works I would unreservedly recommend to other readers.

Publication date: July 15, 2015. 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?

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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One comment

  1. It’s nice to hear about some good self-published work! I have nothing against self-publishing, but a lot of what gets published that way is dreck. It’s exciting to hear about some good stuff. I hope she keeps it up and gets a wide audience!

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