With the king and queen of the island nation of Crosspointe dead, the entire region has collapsed into chaos. An unscrupulous regent has seized power and is busy eliminating every trace of the formerly-ruling Rampling family, with only a few escaping to defy him and thwart his plans. One such obstacle is Princess Margaret, whose delicate exterior and beautiful face hide a cunning mind and a spy’s training. She’s in possession of information which could put a real crimp into the regent’s plans, but to make the best use of her knowledge, she has to team up with Nicholas Weverton. Nicholas, a powerful merchant and part of the rising anti-monarchist movement, has no use for the Ramplings as rulers, but every use for Margaret, who can help him rescue his kidnapped son. Uneasy, unlikely allies, Nicholas and Margaret must face the most powerful man in Crosspointe, even as a much larger threat to the nation looms on the horizon.
The Jutras stand poised to invade and assimilate Crosspointe, like they’ve done to so many other neighboring lands. With Crosspointe under their thumb, all the nations of the Inland Sea will be theirs. This isn’t simply a war for land and property, though. This is a war between the very gods, with mortals as pawns, and events are moving beyond anyone’s control. Despite this, Nicholas and Margaret must come to trust one another as they assemble a ragged group of unpredictable allies and compatriots. As they overcome their differences and deal with a growing attraction to one another, all the pieces move into place for the next stage of the game.
Diana Pharaoh Francis has utilized an interesting strategy in writing this series. Every book thus far as focused on a different set of primary characters, drawing from a varied pool of magicars, nobility, artists, and so on. As the story progresses and things get more complex, we see their stories weave in and out, overlapping in such a way that while each major storyline reaches a conclusion, they continue to play a part in the greater story arc. Thus, by the time we get to this, the fourth book in the series, we’re neck-deep in chaos, politics, love, war, and adventure. It’s fun to watch her build this epic, piece by piece, and each book takes things just that much further. And of course, characters we’ve come to like and root for in previous installments gets to show up again as needed.
While each installment is fashioned as part of a sprawling fantasy epic, each one is also a stand-alone romance, though the growing attraction and relationship between the main characters tends to act as the B-plot, a constant thread running through the adventure and action of the A-plot. Call me a sucker for a well-executed romance between complex characters, but in this case, it really does work. Margaret and Nicholas have every reason to hate each other, and little reason to trust one another, much less cooperate for any length of time, but there’s a satisfying spark that makes their interactions enjoyable.
To sum it up: Sprawling epic fantasy. Great chemistry between the characters. Plenty of unexpected moments. A fascinating setting. A complicated, memorable cast. A series worth picking up. The Hollow Crown definitely lives up to the standards established by the previous entries in the Crosspointe Chronicles, and pushes them higher still. Bring on the next book!
(Reviewer’s Note: Shortly after writing this review, I learned from the author that Roc has declined to pick up the remainder of the series. At this writing, no alternate methods for release have been determined. Hopefully, something will be figured out, as this is one story worth concluding in style!)