Although set in a fantasy world strongly mirroring Medieval Europe, The Amber Crown by Jacey Bedford is a rich tale of magic, loyalty, and adventure. From the point of view of three very different characters, this novel swept me away on their separate, yet entangled, journey in the wake of the death of the King of Zavonia. Continue reading to get my more in-depth take on The Amber Crown.
The king is dead, his queen is missing. On the amber coast, the usurper king is driving Zavonia to the brink of war. A dangerous magical power is rising up in Biela Miasto, and the only people who can set things right are a failed bodyguard, a Landstrider witch, and the assassin who set off the whole sorry chain of events.
Valdas, Captain of the High Guard, has not only failed in his duty to protect the king, but he’s been accused of the murder, and he’s on the run. He’s sworn to seek justice, but his king sets him another task from beyond the grave. Valdas doesn’t believe in magic, which is unfortunate as it turns out.
Mirza is the healer-witch of a Landstrider band, valued and feared in equal measure for her witchmark, her scolding tongue, and her ability to walk the spirit world. When she’s given a task by Valdas’ dead king, she believes that the journey she must take is one she can never return from.
Lind is the clever assassin. Yes, someone paid him to kill the king, but who is to blame, the weapon or the power behind it? Lind must face his traumatic past if he’s to have a future.
Can these three discover the real villain, find the queen, and set the rightful king on the throne before the country is overcome?
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
The Amber Crown took me longer to finish than I would have liked. That was entirely due to life repeatedly taking me away from reading. Had that not been the case I would have easily read it in one day. The setting, characters, and overall plot are compelling, fast-moving, and clearly well-thought-out.
I found the world-building was a very intriguing aspect. Clearly, The Amber Crown is set in a Medieval Europe-esque setting, but Bedford created interesting ways to make it seem familiar yet strikingly different. Words, such as people’s names, concepts, or items, were spelled in ways that if you read phonetically, you’d be like “Oh that is X”, which was an interesting way to build the world. Some of the groups of people represent real groups of people found in the world today, such as the Landstriders who are meant to reflect the nomadic and often ostracized Romani people.
I did enjoy the characters, both main and side characters in The Amber Crown. No matter the length of time a character was in the story, Bedford took the time to develop all characters fairly well and to make them distinct and unique from others. I often find that an issue with some novels that seem to create very shallow side characters.
Bedford attempts to diversify the characters in the inclusion an assassin with a traumatic past, a healer-witch who is kept at an arm’s length among her own people, a falsely accused captain seeking justice, a spy-turned friend and ally from a neighboring kingdom, a pregnant queen learning to survive while fleeing after her husband’s death, and a sex worker who continues to prove there is more than meets the eye — to name a few! The story does seem to hint at issues of racism as one of the main characters is a POC. Unfortunately, it does not seem to truly address it, which would have been important to explore and problematize.
I did think the plot and its narrative structure are compelling. We follow three characters, waiting for their paths to cross which continue to cross and diverge throughout The Amber Crown. The plot allowed for a lot of growth for many of the characters, overcoming their self-image, traumatizing pasts, and regrets. Bedford does not sacrifice their world-building by focusing too much on the characters. The plot introduces political conflicts, explains how magic functions, and creates well-developed sets of cultures. One fault I could see is that it did seem rushed in the end allowing it to seem anti-climactic.
The Amber Crown could have focused more upon certain issues, such as race and trauma, and the end was rushed. With that in mind, overall I do think that it is a great novel. It was not just another iteration of epic fantasy with stock characters, but a unique story in its own right. The story is consistent even to the smallest detail, such as cabbage taxes – if you read it, you’ll get it. If you find yourself with the chance to read this book, I would definitely recommend you do.