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?
Not really sure how this book came to me, but I think I just saw it on sale recently and thought I’d pick it up because I’ve read a Melissa McShane book before and enjoyed her writing. At least, I think that’s what happened. Although, if someone recommended this one to me please remind me so I can thank you. 🙂
Pretty much the first third or so of this book is concentrated on the romance, which of course I loved because I’m all about romance. We get to see Alison at home in her natural environment as a book editor working in the publication industry as she receives an invitation (more like an order) to come and live at court for six months to attend the Dowager Queen as one of her ladies in waiting. Alison, although a Countess, is really not one to stand on ceremony and having to go to court and abide by a very strict set of rules of etiquette is about the furthest thing from a good time to her. Nevertheless, she goes, and at her first ball meets the prince, the current Queen’s younger brother, where he drunkenly offends her during a dance. In order to salvage appearances, Queen Zara orders them to spend time together in public playing nice with each other until the scandal dies down. This, of course, leads to the usual set of getting to know each other, misunderstandings, straightening out of misunderstandings, a grudging friendship, and eventually romance.
I have to say, I really enjoyed the way this played out. It wasn’t love at first sight by any means, and the characters really took the time to get to know each other before any feelings became involved. I wouldn’t say it’s a slow-burn romance, but it’s definitely not insta-love either. Still, there are a good mix of tropes in there, some of which are even lamp-shaded. Honestly, I don’t mind tropes because they’re tropes for a reason and as long as the writer can make them work then it’s all good. The whole giant misunderstanding that takes place near the mid-point of the book is pulled off well when it’s not only lamp-shaded, but the characters spend the rest of the book recovering and rebuilding instead of instantly falling back together like ‘oh, hey, that was just a funny misunderstanding, wasn’t it?’
The world-building in this is light compared to something a little more meaty, like an epic fantasy, but it’s still quite interesting. Tremontane is a world with technology, Devices that make certain things possible. These Devices seem to be powered by magic, but I’m not quite sure because it honestly barely touches on all of the ins and outs of how these things work. But what is made clear, is that this is a world that isn’t stagnant. There is invention, and there continues to be innovation, throughout. One of the things they mention, briefly, which has no real bearing on the plot, is a new communication Device that is being tested. I really enjoyed being shown this because I sometimes feel like fantasy worlds are often shown as being very stuck in whatever state of being they’re presented, as if there is no invention, no advancement. This is clearly not the case with Tremontane. And while some things were very ‘traditional’, life at court for example, where folks are expected to act and dress in a certain way, outside of court things were much more relaxed and many women even wore trousers instead of dresses. I mention this because it felt refreshing, although it did confuse me a little bit as to if there was a time period analogue that this was based on and if so, when, because some things felt very modern while others seemed right out of the nineteenth century. Still, I did enjoy the setting a lot.
But really, again, the strength of this book is its characters. They’re not always instantly lovable. Alison can be quite prickly, pushing people away and sometimes I think she goes too far with her attitude and insults people for no reason. Anthony, right from the get-go, we get a sense of his flaws. He’s actually not as shallow as he presents, but it takes a bit to peel back the surface and see what’s beneath. It also takes some huge events for him to really examine his life and decide who he wants to be. Both of the main character’s story arcs and character growth are great.
The rest of the plot, besides the romance, is centered around the Royal Library. As a book editor, Alison is keen to explore it but keeps being rebuffed by the Royal Librarian. Eventually, certain things come to light and it goes much deeper than just the Royal Library. A powerful organization starts threatening to basically take power away from the Queen and it’s up to Queen Zara, Alison, and Anthony to work together and fight against this corrupt organization. I enjoyed this plot a lot, somewhat because it involved books and organizing them (my place of zen) but also because I enjoy the politics of it all as well. Nothing like a little coop attempt to keep people on their toes. 🙂
Overall, Servant of the Crown is a fun fantasy romance, and Melissa McShane does a great job of blending the two genres. Definitely going to read more of her work in the future. 4/5 stars.