Barefooted, tomboy Countess Meliara has a plan. It’s taken her two days, but she’s finally figured a way to pay the taxes on their estate and every town in Tlanth. But before she can tell her ill father the news, her brother Bran and she are summoned to his bedside, where they swear to take up arms against the king before he passes. Under the cause of freedom from oppression, Meliara and Bran lead their people to a war against the capitol for which they are ill-prepared. But it’s the peacetime that proves the real challenge for Meliara, who must learn the subtle plays of political strategy in court life before another despot takes the crown.
I’ve seen this book on a lot of friends’ shelves and blogger’s “best of” lists for awhile now, and I finally got around to it. I trusted in the recommendations because let’s be honest, the cover is pretty lackluster. You’d think after more than ten years since it was originally published, there would be a new cover art already. I do agree with the decision to combine the two books Crown Duel and Court Duel into one volume called Crown Duel. It was Sherwood Smith’s original intention and I think it makes a lot of sense to read them back-to-back as the same novel. I felt at the end of Part I, the story was still developing and lacked closure.
Unsurprisingly I enjoyed Part II much more than Part I. Although a world with Hill Folk and Fire Sticks sounded promising, Mel’s story was take it or leave it until the war really heats up. Then I couldn’t put it down. What is Meliara’s fate and what are the true intentions of enigmatic Marquis of Sheraveth? There was a point when Meliara’s bluntness and sheer ignorance of court life, politics, and the allegiances of the other realms invoked real embarrassment for her. But just when I began to think it would turn into dislike – a real deal breaker for any book – Mel did something, well, completely stupid yet totally worth the risk to one of her bitterest enemies, and the beginning of the next chapter so fittingly began
I knew it had been a stupid thing to do – and worse, dangerous. But I simply could not stop laughing.
With that admission I knew I was wrong. Meliara and I were going to get along just fine. And we did in Part II, when without losing her spirited, unconventional self Mel developed into a more refined, fashionable, and witty Countess capable of discerning friend from foe and outsmarting her enemies at their own games. While I wanted the Hill Folk to have been less of a mystery and Shevareth’s role more prominent, once I understood his place in the story, I was happily content to watch his character unfold bit by bit with Meliara. The conclusion came quickly after that and left me grinning from ear-to-ear. I think I may be picking up more Sherwood Smith.