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No one who lives in the ocean village of Varenia has ever set foot on land, including seventeen-year-old twins Nor and Zadie. Thanks to a scar from a childhood accident, Nor has always known Zadie will be chosen as the future queen of Ilara, a kingdom all other Varenians are forbidden to enter.

But a twist of fate just days before Zadie’s departure leads Nor to go in her place. Having grown up listening to tales of Ilara’s wealth and beauty, she is dismayed to discover that while Varenians live long, healthy lives, thanks to the blood coral that grows in their waters, the Ilareans are weak from decades spent in their dark, cave-like castle. The crown prince, Ceren, makes it clear he is only marrying Nor to strengthen the royal bloodlines and will stop at nothing to harvest the pearls the Varenians trade for survival.

As Nor comes to know Ceren’s younger half-brother, Talin, she begins to piece together the puzzle of why the Varenians continue to grow poorer at the hands of the Ilareans, and the truth behind the last Varenian queen’s fate. But when Ceren finds the key to strengthening his blood lies within the Varenians themselves, Nor must fight for something far more important than the livelihood of her people: their lives.