Fairy Tale Echoes in Mara Rutherford’s “Crown of Coral and Pearl” Duology

This post is a stop on the Blog Tour for Kingdom of Sea and Stone, book two of the Crown of Coral and Pearl duology. Be sure to check out the other stops on the tour here, and find more information on the book at the end of this post.

Thanks to TBR and Beyond Tours for including me and to TBR, NetGalley, and Inkyard Press for providing me with an advance review copy!


If you’ve been paying attention here, you know that I LOVE a fairy tale retelling. I love seeing how authors reimagine an old story’s characters and plot and themes, viewing them with fresh eyes and imbuing them with new meaning for a modern readership.

Mara Rutherford’s Crown of Coral and Pearl and its newly released sequel, Kingdom of Sea and Stone, are not retellings of fairy tales, but they feel as if they could be. Reminiscent of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, the duology’s folkloric sensibility gives this original story the air of an ancient fable.

Here are a few tales with themes, motifs, and other elements you’ll find echoed in Crown of Coral and Pearl and Kingdom of Sea and Stone (SPOILERS FOR BOOK ONE):

“The Little Mermaid”

By Edmund Dulac – Gutenberg.org: Stories from Hans Andersen, with illustrations by Edmund Dulac, London, Hodder & Stoughton, Ltd., 1911., PD-US,

Nor, the main character and narrator of both books, comes from a small village populated by a people called the Varenians, who live their entire lives quite literally on and in the ocean. They are not merfolk, but there are hints that they have become semi-magical due to the magical properties of the coral from which they harvest pearls.

Much like the mermaid from the Hans Christian Andersen story, Nor is not used to living on land, and she feels very out-of-place and othered among the land-dwellers. And also much like the fairy tale, Nor finds that what she wants most may come at a price much too high to pay.

“Snow White and Rose Red”

Nor and her twin sister Zadie reminded me a lot of Snow White and Rose Red, the two sisters from the fairy tale who are polar opposites, yet share as close a relationship as any two people can. Zadie is the more traditional sister, the one who follows the rules and wants to please others, sometimes at the cost of her own happiness, while Nor is the headstrong and passionate twin who speaks her mind, sometimes to her own detriment.

These opposite natures are reflected in the sisters’ names, “Nor” meaning coral, and specifically referring to the Blood Coral with magical properties that also gave Nor the scar on her face, and “Zadie” meaning pearl, the pearls that the sisters’ village harvests from the sea to sell to the land-dwellers. One dangerous and feared for its mysterious power, the other prized and valued for its beauty, though there is much more beneath that beauty than anyone understands.

“Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”

The “Snow White” fairy tale that most of us are familiar with (and that the Disney animated film is based on) has no relation to the tale “Snow White and Rose Red.” This is a completely different Snow White, but this story has echoes in the Crown of Coral and Pearl duology, as well.

The village of the Varenians is most famous for having the most beautiful women in the world, so much so that all the Crown Princes of the kingdom choose for their brides the most beautiful girl from the village, the fairest of them all, if you will. Zadie is chosen to go to the castle and marry the prince, but due to an accident, Nor must go in her place; once she is there she finds that the royal court, much like the wicked queen in “Snow White,” is dangerously obsessed with outward appearances.

“Rumpelstiltskin”

By Anne Anderson (1874-1930) Public Domain

Much like “The Little Mermaid,” the fairy tale “Rumpelstiltskin” explores the motif of magical bargains and the idea that magic and one’s greatest desire come at a high cost.

In this fairy tale, a miller’s daughter is given the opportunity to marry the king and become queen if she can perform the impossible feat of spinning straw into gold. She gains magical help to accomplish this task, and though that comes at a very steep price, she outwits her adversary in the end.

Nor is also given a seemingly impossible task while at the castle preparing to marry the prince. When a young servant boy is sentenced to combat the aquatic creature that lives in the depths of the mountain, virtually a death sentence, Nor volunteers to take his place, even though it may mean death for her. She uses her wits and her strength as a swimmer to defeat the beast.

“Beauty and the Beast”

Speaking of beasts (*wink*), another fairy tale that has strong echoes in the books is “Beauty and the Beast.” In the original story, Beauty is imprisoned in the Beast’s castle, much as the castle feels like a prison to Nor, and both heroines must uncover the secrets of their respective castles to gain what they are seeking.

An important theme in “Beauty and the Beast” is looking beyond appearances to the true heart of a person, which Nor must do constantly with many people that she meets throughout both books.

“Bluebeard”

“Bluebeard” is a fairy tale that gets a little grizzly. In the story, a young woman marries a wealthy and powerful nobleman, the titular Bluebeard, who gives her every luxury she could want and free reign of his chateau, except for one room that she is forbidden to enter. When her husband has to leave for a time the heroine’s curiosity gets the better of her and she opens the forbidden room, finding the blood and remains of her husband’s previous wives, whom he has murdered.

Nothing quite so gruesome happens to Nor, but her fiancé the Prince does have a secret room that she discovers, a room that is hiding nefarious secrets. The heroine of the “Bluebeard” story ultimately defeats her murderous husband and moves on to a happier ending, and at the end of Crown of Coral and Pearl, it appears Nor will have a similar fate–but of course, there is a second book, so there is still plenty left to her story!


To discover that story, read Kingdom of Sea and Stone, out now, and follow along with the rest of the book tour. Details below:

Book Info:

Kingdom of Sea and Stone (Crown of Coral and Pearl #2) by Mara Rutherford

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Publishing Date: October 6, 2020

Synopsis:

Inkyard Press

Ever since Nor was forced to go to a nearby kingdom in her sister’s place, she’s wanted nothing more than to return to the place and people she loves. But when her wish comes true, she soon finds herself cast out from both worlds, with a war on the horizon.

As an old enemy resurfaces more powerful than ever, Nor will have to keep the kingdom from falling apart with the help of Prince Talin and Nor’s twin sister, Zadie. There are forces within the world more mysterious than any of them ever guessed—and they’ll need to stay alive long enough to conquer them…

Book Links:

About the Author:

Mara Rutherford began her writing career as a journalist but quickly discovered she far preferred fantasy to reality. Originally from California, Mara has since lived all over the world along with her Marine-turned-diplomat husband. A triplet born on Leap Day, Mara holds a Master’s degree in Cultural Studies from the University of London. When she’s not writing or chasing after her two sons, she can usually be found pushing the boundaries of her comfort zone, whether at a traditional Russian banya or an Incan archaeological site. She is the author of CROWN OF CORAL AND PEARL (2019), its sequel, KINGDOM OF SEA AND STONE (2020), and LUMINOUS (2021).

Author Links:

Thank you once again to TBR and Beyond Tours and Inkyard Press for letting me be a part of this tour!

2 thoughts on “Fairy Tale Echoes in Mara Rutherford’s “Crown of Coral and Pearl” Duology

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