Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith is an interesting case in reference to publication. Originally published as two separate books, a 2002 re-release combined Crown Duel and Court Duel into one continuous, two-part book entitled Crown Duel. So, for this review, I will be basing my thoughts on this re-release. Here is the summary:
Over their father’s deathbed, young Meliara Astiar and her brother Branaric promise to lead their people against the evil King. The impoverished count and countess discover that even when the cause is right, leading a war is much tougher than it appears. When Meliara falls into the hands of the elegant Marquis of Shevraeth, the enemy commander, she knows she has to either escape or die. After a desperate chase across country, she discovers that she and Bran are not alone—but the alliance is offered by the person she hates the most.
Once the king is gone, she faces a new type of battlefield: not muddy fields and sharpened steel, but marble palaces. The weapons now are fashion, manners, and the subtle and secret language of fans. Finally, there is the toughest challenge of all, courtship. For how do you defend yourself when the one who draws your eye, and your heart, is your worst enemy?
As suggested by the description, the first part chronicles the uprising in the kingdom of Remalna and the second part deals with the aftermath. I really thought this was a nice change; in too many instances, the conflict ends and then everything everything is peaches and cream. Not here. In the wake of the uprising, the succession of an heir and the disbanding of the army is discussed in detail, with no correct answer being thrust in your face as the reader. All in all, the story line was detailed, fairly original, and completely engaging.
Meliara: I love her! At first I was very worried that she was going to be some Mary Sue character, but she is awesome! She is realistic (well, as realistic as a fantasy character can be) and resourceful. She doesn’t complain the whole time and is aware of her flaws as much as she is aware of her strengths. Nothing much left to say here, so lets move on.
Marquis of Shevraeth (Vidanric): Ahhhh, Shevraeth. Can I marry you? Nah. You already are my husband 🙂 Talk about cool under pressure. This character, for most of the book, is a mystery. Meliara has no idea what he is thinking half of the time, so, as the reader, you want to find out as much as she does. He is extremely competent, intelligent, thoughtful, and loyal, among other things. A superb character overall. (the bonus content at the end of this book from his perspective is pure gold!)
King Galdran: This is where the character cast falls a little short. It isn’t that King Galdran is a bad character per se, but he is simply the asshole character everyone knows. He does bad stuff and serves his purpose as a villan I suppose, but he just does it cause he is super evil. Everyone is scared of him cause he is evil. And there is nothing much else to him. Since he is only a supporting character, and in only the first half, I guess it isn’t as bad as I make it out to be.
Flauvic: Going into this character is dangerously close to spoiler territory, so I’ll try to tread carefully here. Flauvic is a suave, gorgeous man Mel (and the reader) meets in the second half of the book. He is very, very intelligent and clearly works for himself. He was a great edition to the story, and I thoroughly enjoyed the plot twist associated with him, even if I could see it coming.
Nee (Nimiar): I was very worried when this character was first introduced. I thought that she would be the bitchy court lady who shuns Mel or some other bullshit. I am happy to report that Nee was, in fact, a very sweet, genuine person and I thought she was a very nice edition to the book.
Writing style: One of the strong points of this book, I do have to say, is the language. The prose is not necessarily lyrical, but it is sophisticated and adapted well to the content of the book. The descriptions are detailed enough so that the reader can visualize the setting without being bored to tears over the lush detail of the hors d’oeuvours served at every gosh darn meal. It is told in first person (my favorite POV) and is very reflective in nature. It is my experience that Sherwood Smith can do no wrong, and this book is surely a pinnacle of her sharp writing style.
Cover: This is the cover of the copy of the book I have as a hard copy:
I think that this cover is a very apt indicator of the book. It is simple and to the point without a bunch of other distracting nonsense to clutter it up. I really like the original covers as well.
This is the original cover of the first book. Here is the cover of the original second volume:
I especially like this cover, but not for any objective reasons. I just think it is pretty is all 🙂
I am reluctant to assign this book a score. The book is so damn enjoyable that a score might not fully encompass the depth of amazing-ness that is this book. Don’t believe me? Check it as soon as possible and see for yourself!
I highly recommend Crown Duel for any reader, old or young, especially those like me who love fantasy novels. Crown Duel is one of the most enjoyable books I have read 🙂