Saturday, 28 May 2011

Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith

Crown Duel

This one was an insistence from a friend. She loved it and wouldn't shut up about it kept telling me about it. Well, forcing me to get this book, and then reading (and now reviewing it). It was with some doubt that I approached it (my friend's review notwithstanding) - too many expectations can be bad.

This book is actually an omnibus of Crown Duel and Court Duel, plus an extra short story at the end, and so, I will divide the review in these 3 parts.

Crown Duel, the first part, presents us to Meliara, a countess from a troubled kingdom, where a tyrant king rules, and all the counties are heavily taxed to pay for his pleasures and his court. This kingdom is also inhabited by the Hill People, a kind of otherworld beings (a bit of a mix of elves and fairies), with whom everyone accepted a Covenant. Basically no wood is to be taken from trees, only the fallen branches can be collected. The Hill People gift families every year with Firesticks, that allow them to warm their houses and cook their food. And the tyranny of the king wouldn't be complete if he didn't mean to break this Covenant.

But back to Meliara, the heroine of our story. She is a countess but knows nothing of niceties and curtsies. She runs barefoot with all the other kids, mingles with servants and peasants, and, in fact, thinks nothing of difference of status. Nor does her brother.

When both of them find out that the king intends to break the Covenant they decide it's time for him to be gone, and they start to plan their revolt, trying to harness supporters among the other counties to go to war. Only, war comes to them and they are alone on this strife.

This was quite a nice start. Intrigue, plots for revolution and war, overthrowing tyrants, a hint of fantasy here and there. I liked to discover the customs of this new world, the dances and songs, the festivities, the fact that everyone worked for the same goal (at least at Meliara's house).

This is the story of Meliara, and as so, we follow all of her exploits. And also, keep her company for almost 500 pages. She is quite a spunky kid, not used to lying, actually, very bad at it, but that is no matter because she would much rather be honest. And blunt. But she was also rather oblivious and obstinate. Not a good combination, and as this book progressed (and well into the second part), I started to get the urge to slap some sense into this girl.

Storywise, it was a good first part. Not very surprising, beyond a few twists here and there, but nicely written. And most authors would have made of this first part a standalone book (save from a less open ending, and a few other minor changes).

Which brings us to the second part, Court Duel. This is what made the Crown Duel (as a whole) an amazing read. The first part was about war, and overthrowing a king. This second part, however, dealt with the court and all its intricacies.

I kept imagining the court of Remalna has something out of 18th century France, with parties and balls, and secret silent languages. Discovering all the intrigues, who's friend and who's foe, who to trust, that was all part of the fun. Meliara's ignorance (and also extreme dislike) of the Court life was the perfect excuse for me, the reader, to learn all about it, and I loved every part of it.

Of course the desire to slap Mel until she saw reason persisted, but at least in this part she was aware she needed some slapping.

Another thing that I liked, well, loved, were the letters. Secret admirers can be so fun in a book. There is something about it that takes you back to being 12, but there is also so much that can be done with it. People are more sincere with letters, especially if the other person doesn't know who are. And then there is the mystery of the entire thing. Of course I knew who the writer was, part because of comments from my friend, and part because it was rather obvious. But this is one of the cases that is not so much who the culprit is, but how you find out. Also, you are about 99% sure you have the right answer to the mystery, but just want to be proven right in the off 1% chance you are wrong.

This second part was what made me surrender to this book. If the first part was read languidly, alternating with other books, this second one was a rush to read more and more about the Court, wondering when Mel would see some sense, and see an ending to the kingdom's troubles.

The ending was quite good, I liked how it was done, and where the story stopped. And that leads to the final short story.

I understand that it was a gift for the fans of the book (and of Meliara's love story), but it was completely unnecessary. Especially because it was not as well written as the rest of the book. It was a bit of silliness I could have done without.

But, despite this short story, I liked this book. There a few things that surprised me, and that I loved, for example that there you were as likely to find women in the army as you were to find men. And that some of the ladies of court were very keen on competing in horse racing and on sword fighting. It was refreshing.

I'm glad that I paid some heed to my friend's constant nagging, because it was an excellent book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Other Reviews: Cuidado com o Dalmata |

This Book on: LibraryThing | GoodReads | BookDepository UK | Book Depository US | Amazon UK| Amazon US|


  1. OH MY GOD! IT'S HERE! :D *throws confetti* and you liked it! YAY *dances around the room*

    Wait a minute, I didn't tell you about the secret admirer, did I? Nonetheless, it was pretty obvious (unless one is called Meliara), I mean, it had to be him. (The poor guy.)

    That last part reminded me of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows's epilogue: fun but unnecessary. Made me laugh though. :)

  2. Yes, it's here. I see you are happy now!

    You didn't tell me about the secret admirer, but you did say that she threw candleholders to "the one", and since she only does that once...

    Funny that you mention HP's epilogue, because I was close to making that comparison on the review - it's exactly like that epilogue. Fun, but fanfiction-y and useless.

  3. was the flying candle holder. I had to share that part, it's too good..xD