Monday, December 17, 2012

Crown Duel/Court Duel by Sherwood Smith

Crown Duel/Court Duel by Sherwood Smith, pub. 2002, 471 pg.
Rating: 5/5 stars

Young Countess Meliara swears to her dying father that she and her brother will defend their people from the growing greed of the king. That promise leads them into a war for which they are ill-prepared, which threatens the very people they are trying to protect. But war is simple compared to what follows, in peacetime. Meliara is summoned to live at the royal palace, where friends and enemies look alike, and intrigue fills the dance halls and the drawing rooms. If she is to survive, Meliara must learn a whole new way of fighting-with wits and words and secret alliances.

In war, at least, she knew in whom she could trust. Now she can trust no one. -From cover

Fantasy. Love. Adventure. Magic. War. This book has everything you could possibly want in one novel (well, technically two novels -- the two stories were republished as one book, which is pretty convenient).

Mel is a snappy, fiery, awesome girl who would rather sit in her rundown castle in Tlanth (a province of Remalna) and study war strategy than attend the villages dances and flirt like the other girls her age. It all pays off, though, when the king sends soldiers to break a treaty and harvest Tlanth's rare colorwood trees.

What follows are a series of fantastically clever action sequences as Mel, her brother, Bran, and their people fight back with all of the tricks they can think of. Mel manages to outfox the king's men, escape a number of tricky situations, and become a figure of rebellion throughout Remalna.

In Court Duel, Mel is called to live at court and has to navigate the trickery and deceitfulness of many who grew up in the palace. She becomes something of a pet to them, with her country manners and lack of courtly knowledge. The men make a game of courting her, and the women play at teaching her the ways of court. But Mel has to decide who can be trusted, especially when she discovers the danger lurking underneath it all. 

The action, characters, and plot of Crown Duel and Court Duel are all amazing. They are such fantastically written books that it feels like you are fighting the rebellion and suffering the pains of court alongside Mel and her friends. 

You want to be Mel's friend - you cheer her on as she fights her battles, you get frustrated at her tendency to be naive and distrustful, and you want to hang out with her at court. You want to watch Bran tell stories. You love and hate the Marquis of Shevraeth. You want to defeat King Galdran yourself. The characters are the type you form real connections with, the type of connections that make finishing a book bittersweet because you don't want to leave them.

Lovers of fantasy and adventure should definitely check out this book, but even if that isn't your regular deal, I would highly recommend picking Crown Duel/Court Duel up anyway. It just might change your mind!

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