Two impoverished sisters aspire to be chosen to become a royal bride.
Nor and her identical twin sister, Zadie, dive for pearls along with other struggling villagers in Varenia, a tiny, oppressed kingdom of wooden homes built on stilts in the sea. Tradition holds that when the crown prince of the kingdom of Ilaria is ready for marriage, the elders select the loveliest girl in Varenia for him to marry. Sweet-tempered Zadie is her family’s expected choice; Nor isn’t really a contender, having sustained an injury that left a scar on her cheek. In some ways, this liberates her: She is outspoken and defiant, questions society’s preoccupation with beauty, and dreams of one day setting foot on dry land. When Zadie reveals that she is in love with the governor’s son, their neighbor, the sisters quickly realize that a simple accident can produce the necessary flaw to keep her home and send Nor in her stead. Debut author Rutherford’s saga begins with the promise of originality, with intriguing kingdoms and worthy heroines. However, the characters can feel two-dimensional, particularly the gallantly handsome love interest and cold, cruel villain. Despite some predictability, it’s a fun read, as the tempo canters along. In tropical Varenia, citizens have a wide range of hair and skin colors and value them all as beautiful.
A fun and adventurous bit of fantasy romance. (Fantasy. 12-15)