Review: Capture the Crown by Jennifer Estep
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of Gargoyle Queen
Publisher: Harper Voyager | Harper Audio (July 6, 2021)
Length: 416 pages | 13 hrs and 30 mins
Narrator (Audiobook): Lauren Fortgang
Since I loved Jennifer Estep’s Crown of Shards trilogy, picking up Capture the Crown was a no-brainer, as it is the first book of a new series set in the same world. In this novel, we follow protagonist Gemma Ripley, the cousin of Everleigh. On the outside, she may appear to be your typical pampered princess—self-absorbed and shallow, concerned only with parties and pretty gowns. However, the reality of it is more complicated. The spoiled princess image is merely a mask she puts on to hide her true activities working as a spy for her kingdom. She’s also a mind magier, which gives her a range of abilities from reading people’s thoughts to moving objects with her mind. In her disguise as a commoner, Gemma works undercover as a miner in the border town of Blauberg, where large amounts of tearstone have been going missing from the royal mines.
Before long, Gemma uncovers a smuggling ring operating in town. But her mission hits an unexpected snag as she encounters Prince Leonidas Morricone from the rival kingdom of Morta, who is in Blauberg carrying out his own mysterious plans. Due to something in their shared history, Gemma does not have a high opinion of Leonidas, who appears not to recognize her. In order to maintain her cover, she decides to let him whisk her back to Morta where she can convalesce from her travels, while also using the opportunity as a way to spy on the enemy and perhaps find out who is really behind the stolen tearstone.
Fans of the Crown of Shards trilogy should find plenty to like in this first installment of the Gargoyle Queen trilogy as well. Still, a caveat: don’t expect Gemma to have the same charisma or presence as Evie. In case you’re wondering though, you can indeed read this one without having read the previous series, and in fact, to tell the truth, I might even have enjoyed this book more if I hadn’t. While I wouldn’t say Capture the Crown was bad by any means, I wouldn’t call it really memorable or meaningful either, and while the sequels may change this in the future as the characters and story become more developed, for now I remain slightly underwhelmed.
I’ll begin with my thoughts on the protagonist. I liked Gemma; she had spirit and she had style. But her voice also sounded young, making this book feel skewed more towards Young Adult (and as far as I know, this book was not marketed as YA, featuring content that would definitely be considered as more “adult”). This in turn set the tone for her eventual romance with Leonidas, which was filled tropes and angst. I didn’t feel that there was much chemistry between them either, despite the “mortal enemies to lovers” arc the author was clearly trying hard to set up. Instead, their romance felt awkward and forced.
Then there was the plot. Look, I get it. Gemma’s a spy, and as such a lot of her work involves snooping and observing the people around her, and not everyone can be like Evie, who joins a gladiator troupe and kicks some serious ass in Kill the Queen. But for much of this book, and especially after the intro, it just felt like not much was happening. Mostly, the story was dominated by court intrigue and relationship drama, lots of dialogue, and at times it was a struggle just to stay focused.
On the plus side though, magic played a huge role in this book, and I also delighted in the different creatures like Grimley the gargoyle, who’ll no doubt be a fan favorite. Fantasy fans will also appreciate the many cool ideas kicking around here, I’m sure. That said, world-building is definitely not the novel’s forte. Cultural differences between the various kingdoms were overly simplistic, for example. And while Gemma’s magical abilities were impressive, it was rather unclear what the extent or limits of her powers were, and there appeared to be no rhyme or rhythm to how they worked. As a result, the fantasy aspects were not quite as well integrated with the rest of the story, feeling more like an affectation. It’s probably not a deal breaker in the scheme of things, but it still might be a source of frustration for some.
All in all, I can’t deny I’d hoped for more out of Capture the Crown, but even with its weaknesses, this was a fun romp. Besides being on the lighter side for epic fantasy and the fact that the story has a mild taste of YA despite being an adult novel, it was an entertaining read that went by quickly. I’m still greatly interested in following Jennifer Estep’s work and my admiration for her storytelling will be the main reason I’ll most likely pick up the next volume.