The Crown Rose by Fiona Avery
Fiona Avery’s The Crown Rose is a historical fantasy — it places real historical figures in a real historical setting but it includes fantastic elements (magic, sorcery, etc.). In this novel, we follow the story of Princess Isabelle, Queen Mother Blanche, King Louis, Prince Robert, and Prince Charles in 13th century France. The royals are protected and advised by the Order of the Rose, a mysterious trio of women with supernatural powers and unknown origins.
Ms Avery’s “good” characters are charming and her premise is interesting. The novel, which is full of biblical truths, displays of saintly behavior, and excellent distinctions between pharisaical and real righteous behavior, actually feels like a Christian fantasy (well, up until the very end when the Last-Temptation-of-Christ-style heresy is revealed).
But premise and characters can’t make up for all of the problems I have with The Crown Rose. The biggest is the writing style. The simple, often choppy, informal sentences give it the feel of a children’s novel, though its content is definitely adult. Ms Avery constantly tells me what characters are doing, will do, or how they feel. And she often tells me these things twice. She attempts to use a formal tone and courtly dialogue, but the writing is inelegant and too modern. If I’m supposed to feel like I’m back in the middle ages, then characters can’t use words and phrases such as “really,” “pretty much,” “outside of,” “automatically,” and “try and.” And a 13th century French archbishop can’t take a 19th century British “lie-down.” There is none of that “old feel” to the language (or the story) that we get from good historical writers like Sharon Kay Penman, Philippa Gregory, Dorothy Dunnett, or — my favorite — Patrick O’Brien.
A good editor could have fixed these problems and also could have avoided making me wince at sentences such as these:
- “You’ve been salivating over my hand in marriage since the time I was born!”
- “I try and avoid him.”
- The whites of his eyes showed more power than the Devil’s.
- They went at each other viciously: no armor, no elite fencing; just two men determined to live, determined that he would kill the other one.
- The problem was how apparent was what he and this cousin had been up to in the house.
- The young lieutenant looked up at him, shivering with collapse.
- “Fearful hounds and other beasts that prowl on the helpless.”
- It was a massive understatement, she could tell.
- “I saw her come up to you just now, as I was making my way down. She never speaks to anyone outside of the queen.”
- “I’m really the only one in the family who does pretty much the same thing as you do.”
The writing style was enough to make me want to put down the novel, but wait! There’s more. Some of the plot was ridiculous. Could it be possible that Isabelle, an educated, well-read, and intelligent princess, doesn’t understand the political history between France and England and realize the reason her family wants her to marry the King of Germany (her best friend)? Nobody bothers to explain it to her and years later she is surprised to find out that marrying him might have been advantageous.
Is it possible that a sober Prince Robert — a military strategist — might tell family secrets to a tavern keeper he just met? Would an English spy give a French traitor information about England’s planned invasion of France while he dandled a French whore on each knee? Would Thomas Aquinas refuse to tell Princess Isabelle and the university scholars about his secret studies, yet confide them to a courtier he just met? Does a medieval princess walk about Paris without an escort, ride alone on day-long journeys, and stay for days in a tower with a mysterious man she hardly knows without her mother and brothers being concerned?
Fiona Avery writes for television and comics, and I wonder if this explains the poor handling of her villains. Instead of being subtle and intriguing, they are comical. The bad guys have small eyes, stringy hair, hang out in brothels, smoke opium, and “slither.” Her main villain, nobleman Pierre Mauclerc, has an irrational desire for Princess Isabella. She hates him, but he’s under the delusion that she wants him, and every man she talks to is an enemy to be dispatched. He tries multiple methods for knocking them off and I started to wonder when he’d bring out the Acme anvil and a stick of dynamite.
Lastly, I was disappointed that I didn’t get to read any of the “ripping philosophical discourse” between Isabelle and her university friends (Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, Thomas Aquinas). Avery often alludes to these great debates and discussions when actually including them would have given this novel some much-needed heft.
I can’t recommend The Crown Rose as a YA novel because of the adult content. But, unfortunately, it will not satisfy adult readers of either fantasy or historical fiction.