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Review: ‘Crown Duel’ by Sherwood Smith

December 27, 2010

Impoverished Countess Meliara is rushed to the side of her dying father one day with her brother, Bran.  At their father’s insistence, the siblings swear to fight the king’s oppressive measures, to protect their land Tlanth, and to protect the mysterious Hill Folk and the Covenant with them.  On his death bed, the siblings swear to do as he asks.

And so begins the journey of Meliara in battles she could never have been prepared for.  She and her brother Bran try their best to fend off the greedy king’s armies, but they begin to lose ground when Meliara is captured.  She escapes and goes on the run, trying to return to Tlanth and her brother while avoid the king and his henchman, the Marquis Shevraeth, a mysterious figure that constantly runs into conflict with Mel.  On the way home, Mel learns a great deal about the country she lives in and the common people her kind are meant to serve and protect.  Rescued by a farmer’s family, Meliara finds out what a farmer’s life is like for a few brief days, and how much danger her presence puts her new friends in.  Meliara must keep going though despair, hunger, pain, shifting loyalties, and enemy capture to reach her goal: the downfall of King Galdran and the protection of the Hill Folk.

My Thoughts:  First of all, please note that my copy is a combination version of the first book, “Crown Duel,” and the second book, “Court Duel”, as well as an added short story at the end.  My summary above is only for the first section (“Crown Duel”)–I can’t tell you very much about the second section (“Court Duel”) without revealing important plot points that are better left as a surprise.

That being said, this book is one of my favorites.  Every time I pick it up I can’t put it down.  Both sections of the story are written in first person from the viewpoint of the main character, Countess Meliara.  Normally first person viewpoint isn’t really my cup of tea, but it works very well here.  Smith is a very good storyteller, and he makes the first-person work well.  We get to know the main character’s thoughts and opinions very well, and we know the other characters through what she thinks of them.  When romance comes into play in the second section, this viewpoint adds to the tension.

I think one of the most appealing things about this story is its heroine–Meliara makes countless mistakes, but she learns from them.  Not only that, but she is brave without meaning to be–meaning that she does what thinks is necessary to protect her people no matter what happens to her.  She works through her fear.

I like the way Smith wrote the character of Meliara.  Sure, she’s beautiful and young, and ultimately desirable as the reader finds in the second section.  But he doesn’t focus on her physical qualities the way some writers do.  He focuses more on the qualities that make her a good person and an intriguing heroine–her thoughts, her opinions, the desires that make her want to protect people at the expense of herself, etc.

Other characters are as well written as Meliara.  Her brother is a nice guy, but somewhat clueless, which works itself into the plot in both sections.  He loves his sister dearly, but when the fighting is over and done, he finds his own life, which is only as it should be.  Still, he is as lovable as the old king is detestable.

As a villain, King Galdran is a pretty evil guy.  Most of his evil comes from selfishness and greed, rather than the idea that he’s evil just because he’s evil.  Galdran comes across as a despicable human being, which makes him rather perfect as the man Meliara hates.

As for Shevraeth…I have to say, I love Shevraeth.  Smith writes Shevraeth’s character as a very back-and-forth kind of guy.  At first we think he’s the enemy.  Then we think he’s the good guy.  Then we think he’s the enemy again.  Yet by the time we come to the second section (“Court Duel”) I think the reader finds that he is actually rather likable.

Overall, a very good read.  I can’t find anything wrong with this book.  I didn’t find any slow spots, or character problems, or plot holes.  I give it five stars.

Buy on Amazon * Author Info * GoodReads * Shelfari

Book info: 471 pages, published 2002, ISBN 0142301515

Copy is from personal library

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