Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2
“Happiness didn’t come neatly packaged. It found you in the moments between tears and laughter, in the fights and brokenness, in the support and in the bond with someone who loved you as broken as you were and as whole as you’d become.”
Okay, okay, okay. Buckle your seatbelts because I have so many ideas and thoughts about CD Reiss’s Crowne of Lies, and my brain has struggled to contain them. Some of them may feel out there, and some of them may seem obvious. No matter the case, just know one thing: I think CD Reiss is f[ing] brilliant as a writer. Her books, in this case, Crowne of Lies, give me life. Her books hit against my “lit” brain and light it up. I can’t say that about most romances.
In its most basic form, Crowne of Lies is my favorite type of story. Logan is a self-absorbed, workaholic who is privileged, short-sighted, and inflexible. He is your proto-typical alpha-hole. The best romantic stories for this type of character add in an intelligent, artistic, “messy” heroine to foil him. And this is the case in Reiss’s newest story. Logan and Ella are opposites of the extreme variety. As such, there is an expectation of “fireworks,” and Reiss does not disappoint in crafting those sparks. When Logan and Ella come together in the story, you can’t help but feel the chemistry bleed off the page. Yet, in the midst of their differences, we find that these two are actually more alike than they believe. Logan and Ella feel like two sides of the same coin. Both want a piece of the family name, yet it feels like a need borne more out of obligation than a real love for it. It’s here where Reiss suggests that there is more to Ella and Logan. Ella muddying Logan, and Logan offering his authority to Ella allows for these two to grow. Both of them are stagnant at the beginning of the story, fixed in place; with their marriage of convenience, they help the other find another piece of themselves. It’s a suggestion that the best of love completes us, challenges us, and brings out our strengths. Reiss’s strength is the craftsmanship of this coupling.
Where Reiss shines, though, is her writing. I’m not going to tell you a lie here or downplay my knowledge of writing for this review. Reiss uses an extended metaphor with fashion to illustrate the gravity of the relationships and their mythology in the backgrounds of certain characters. Ella’s family fashion line, Papillion, the one her father designed and her mother ran, is more than just its fashion. Reiss uses it to illustrate their love story. The fashion is the representation of their relationship, one that seemed fated and on the level of soulmates. When Bianca, Ella’s stepmother (interesting allusion to the Cinderella story, by the way…more of Reiss’s intelligence as a writer), cheapens the line, she bastardizes it and by extension, diminishes the love of Ella’s parents. This is the reason that Ella fights for the company. It isn’t protecting the fashion of the label; it’s about controlling and protecting the narrative of her parents’ love, represented in the fashion of Papillion. Unfortunately, as the story progresses, we recognize that the idyllic nature of their love is manufactured. The metaphor becomes extended through Ella’s obfuscation of her father’s dress. At this moment, Ella is “breaking $hit” and rewriting her own story with Logan. When you read these moments in Crowne of Lies, it becomes clear that Reiss is more artist than writer. It is here where she draws out the goosebumps on your arm because she isn’t just telling you Logan and Ella’s story; she’s showing you through the images of her story. This is where the genius of writing finds its profundity. The image of fashion in this book is used to illustrate the rewriting of Ella and Logan’s love. Like the manufactured narrative of her parents’ love, Ella and Logan believe they are impossible for each other in the “forever” sense of it. They are too different. In re-fashioning her father’s dress, along with re-imagining Doreen’s dress, Reiss is showing us that Ella and Logan can “break” the ideas of their relationship and make it their own. It was here that I bowed down to CD Reiss’s ingenuity and artistry as a writer.
Even more, her prose (yes, she is the Shakespeare of smut) grabs you. It challenges you. It connects you deeply to the emotional strife of her characters, and darn it, it entertains. Logan and Ella’s wordplay will titillate you. Even more, Logan is such a dirty talker that their physicality will turn you on and make you blush a little. He’s so dirty. Yet, it’s Reiss’s words that add the jewels to the Crowne story. Her words here reveal her talent as a wordsmith: “I was an alchemist who turned hurt tangible.”…”Fine, Daddy. An alchemist who turned pain into art.” Reiss’s words give us pictures that emulate the feelings and thoughts of her characters. This causes them to ingratiate their way into our souls. I gobbled them up and felt satiated by the end of Crowne of Lies.
In the midst of her writing and story, CD Reiss challenges us. Yes, Crowne of Lies is an entertaining, intelligent, and insightful tale of two people seemingly different coming together to protect what they believe is due them. But it’s really something more. Crowne of Lies is a story of being. Who are we when our manufactured narratives are proved false? Who are we when our truth is upended? Who are we when we realize there is more to our story that we had believed previously? There is an existential crisis in this book, and it’s a challenge for readers to consider their own story, their own mythology. It is possible to be more than we previously thought. Logan and Ella’s story is more than a marriage of convenience story; their romance is an admonishment to examine your truth and live in it…until you find new truths about yourself. If you haven’t read CD Reiss’s books, then you haven’t allowed yourself the true pleasure of romancelandia. Crowne of Lies is a great place to start. I adored the first book in the Crowne series of standalones, Iron Crowne, but Logan and Ella captured first place in this series.
“My past was my own. My skills had value. I was enough. Good enough. Talented enough. Free enough.”
In love and romance,