Review: Crown Duel

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?

Plot:

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.

Characters: 

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:

crown

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.

crown 1

This is the original cover of the first book. Here is the cover of the original second volume:

court

I especially like this cover, but not for any objective reasons. I just think it is pretty is all 🙂

Final Thoughts:

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!

Score :

8.8

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 🙂

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Review: The Wrath and the Dawn

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh was a literal déjà vu for me. I have always had grand ideas of writing a novel or a short story or something, but I have never really gotten past the first few chapters. And I have no idea why. I love writing. I really do. It is just that whenever I try to write a cohesive story more than five or so pages long, the threads fall apart and I am left unsatisfied. There is always something, a thing that I cannot quite place, missing.

I feel this way with The Wrath and the Dawn too. The book, by all accounts, should be amazing. And it was. There was some small thing missing in the plot and character writing that I only realized after careful inspection, so I am here to share my thoughts.

Without further ado, here is the Amazon.com synopsis:

“Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.”

http://www.amazon.com/The-Wrath-Dawn-Ren%C3%A9e-Ahdieh/dp/0399171614

As you can see, the book is a retelling of the fairy tale One Thousand and One Nights, or Arabian Nights. While fairy tale retellings are a dime a dozen nowadays, with popular series like the Lunar Chronicles lining the shelves, I had never read a retelling of Arabian Nights prior to The Wrath and the Dawn. Now, I have seen two more adaptations spring up and I am sure more are on the way.

Plot:

There is nothing really special about the plot, seeing as though it is adapted from another source. However, I do think that the book is its own entity: I say this because there are many differences between the original and this book, such as the fact that there is, in fact, a reason behind Khalid killing his wives. The mystery drives the plot, not really the stories Shazi tells. And so, I liked the plot, since I loved the mystery.

The world described in this book I absolutely adored! It is set in an era of magic and secrecy, with magic carpets and mystic men and is based on lore from Persia. I ate it up! The kingdom of Khorasan is a character in its own right.

Characters:

I will start by saying this: there are multiple POVs in this book. I am more of a fan of single POV books, but I thought the changing POVs were a good edition and added to the mystery. With that being said, Shahrzad, or Shazi, is the main character of the book.

Main Characters:

Shazi: Shazi is introduced on her wedding day and we immediately get a glimpse of her personality. She is strong willed, arrogant/extremely confident, and fairly oblivious. She wishes to believe that she is all-knowing, but she misses a lot, as she later finds out in the story. I like that she has flaws yet still is a certifiable badass. Too many times nowadays heroines are advertised as a “strong female protagonist” simply because they can use a knife or some other bullshit thing. Meanwhile, they are downright useless, stupid, or impractical. Shazi is not any of these, and I love it.

Khalid: Khalid, the boy-king or Caliph of Khorasan, is Shazi’s recent husband and wife-murderer. He is a deeply guarded character and we rarely get a glimpse at his personality. For all intents and purposes, he is a stony-faced mystery. Yet, I am reluctant to say he has NO personality. He does, he really does. And it comes out in his body language. If you are a dialogue reader and skip the descriptions, it sucks to be you. Khalid comes to life in the way his actions, movements, and facial expressions are detailed in The Wrath and the Dawn.

Supporting Characters:

Despina: A handmaiden who serves Shazi while she lives at the palace, Despina becomes Shazi’s “friend”, though I am reluctant to call their relationship this. Despina is much wiser than Shazi in certain areas, but in some ways Shazi is more wise than her, and there is this whole dynamic between them that is friendly without them being “friends” per se. As a character, Despina holds up on her own, but there was nothing really shown of her without Shazi around. I think this is a little disappointing; I really wanted to learn more about her. *sigh* Alas, I shall have to wait for the sequel!

Jalal: Serving as a captain of the guard, Jalal is Khalid’s cousin and often his conscience. Jalal is arrogant and smug, but in a way that is more charming than repulsive. I liked him, but wish that I could have seen more from him, perhaps even from his POV.

Tariq: He is Shazi’s friend/love. He adores Shazi and would die for her, if that is what it would take to make sure she is happy. However, he is quite naïve in some of his pursuits and is out-witted about half of the time before he even realizes what is going on. On the whole, I liked him as a person, but I felt that he was kind of an unnecessary character and a deus ex machina in the end. The story’s progression was fairly obvious in regards to Tariq and he was a bit of an outside subject.

Jahandar: Jahandar is Shazi’s father. He loves his family very much, but is a little unstable now that his wife died and his daughter is marrying a murderer who kills all of his wives at dawn. Understandable. In the story he dabbles in magic, revealing his instability more and more. Call it personal taste or whatever, but I was never invested in his story like I was in the others. I am not going to say that he was a bad character, but he was okay and only okay.

The Rajput: A silent bodyguard/expert swordsman, the Rajput is a silent presence the entire time. Much like Khalid, some of his personality came through in his body language, but not nearly as much as Khalid. Overall, he was okay.

Writing Style:

This is where I am very divided. On one hand, the writing is downright beautiful. There are some phrases and sentences that just have me swooning on the spot. Who could resist the allure of some of these?

Khalid froze in time. Then Shahrzad watched his face shatter. The eyes of molten amber faded to dull memory. Faded to ruin. His raw anguish seared her soul and robbed her of breath. The bloodstained shamshir fell to his side.

 

It tore at what professes to be my soul. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. A thousand, thousand times. At your knees, and it will never be enough.

And quite possibly my favorite:

One hundred lives for the one you took. One life to one dawn. Should you fail but a single morn, I shall take from you your dreams. I shall take from you your city. And I shall take from you these lives, a thousandfold.

That is some serious writing there. Being a musical person, I thoroughly appreciate the lyricism of the diction and syntax of this book. It is truly a marvel.

However.

The impact of this prose is twofold. Sometimes it weaves itself in with the moment, resulting in some truly wondrous scenes. Sometimes, it fails to do this and creates a dichotomy within the book. I would note how great the writing was kind of like when you are in the movie theater and say “wow, that was some really great cinematography”. And that is exactly what is wrong with this book. Sometimes it feels like a film and you are the viewer; you have a firm grasp of what is going on and you really like it, but you are not in the story. You are not immersed in what is happening. The film keeps rolling by and you are the passive receiver rather than the active reader. In some spots where the writing really needed to pull it off, it split from the events and was beautiful to read but difficult to dive into.

All in all, though, the writing was really good. As this is the author’s debut novel, I am really expecting great things from one Renée Ahdieh.

Cover/general appearance:

You and I know the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” is complete bullshit. Sure, it may be good in a symbolic sense, but in a literal sense it is stupid. OF COURSE people want to read books with interesting covers and cool artwork. Look at this and try to tell me that you are not intrigued:

wrath

Now this is a cover. Hell YEAH! It gives you a glimpse at the genre, the main character, and the central focus of the book in one image. A+ on design, Renée Ahdieh.

Last thoughts:

Let’s say that you are at the mall with some of your friends. You see someone and you’re like, “Holy shit, he/she is totally hot!” But there is always that one friend that points out the coffee stain or the crooked tooth or the awful pattern of the shorts. So now you are shit out of luck. You want to go back to that blissful state of enthrallment, but the slight imperfection is a neon sign in you head.

When I realized what about the writing bothered me, this is what happened. This book is one glorious package of intrigue, passion, and history, but I managed to find the bug in the rice. And it is all subjective.

After calculating the scores for the categories, The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh get a score of:

8.2

I recommend that you buy this book at your earliest convenience and give it a go. I am sure you will not be disappointed 🙂