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Battle on and off the field, with sword and fan, with might and manners... It begins in a cold and shabby tower room, where 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, a war that threatens the homes and lives of the Battle on and off the field, with sword and fan, with might and manners... It begins in a cold and shabby tower room, where 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, a war that threatens the homes and lives of the very people they are trying to protect. But war is simple compared to what follows, when the bloody fighting is done and a fragile peace is at hand. Although she wants to turn her back on politics and the crown, Meliara is summoned to the royal palace. There, she soon discovers, 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 wit and words and secret alliances. In war, at least, she knew whom she could trust. Now she can trust no one. The Firebird edition of Crown Duel combines the hardcover editions of Crown Duel and Court Duel-and features a never-before-published story by Sherwood Smith!


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Battle on and off the field, with sword and fan, with might and manners... It begins in a cold and shabby tower room, where 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, a war that threatens the homes and lives of the Battle on and off the field, with sword and fan, with might and manners... It begins in a cold and shabby tower room, where 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, a war that threatens the homes and lives of the very people they are trying to protect. But war is simple compared to what follows, when the bloody fighting is done and a fragile peace is at hand. Although she wants to turn her back on politics and the crown, Meliara is summoned to the royal palace. There, she soon discovers, 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 wit and words and secret alliances. In war, at least, she knew whom she could trust. Now she can trust no one. The Firebird edition of Crown Duel combines the hardcover editions of Crown Duel and Court Duel-and features a never-before-published story by Sherwood Smith!

30 review for Crown Duel

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sherwood Smith

    Well, I loved writing this story when I was in my very early twenties, and I loved typing it up when I was in my forties . . . if I were to write it over, the Merindars would be central, not poor Mel, but hey. Time and tides.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Krystle

    I’m ashamed to say I’ve only read this classic of young adult fantasy now. How horrid, no? I don’t know what I’ve been missing out. Forget about Katsa, Katniss, and all those other strong hard-headed heroines you love. Meliara is the original and stakes her claim on the throne until this day. The first book was filled with action, action, and lots more action. I wasn’t really gripped by it because of how annoying Meliara was. She was brash, stubborn, irrational, prejudiced, and very rude. She I’m ashamed to say I’ve only read this classic of young adult fantasy now. How horrid, no? I don’t know what I’ve been missing out. Forget about Katsa, Katniss, and all those other strong hard-headed heroines you love. Meliara is the original and stakes her claim on the throne until this day. The first book was filled with action, action, and lots more action. I wasn’t really gripped by it because of how annoying Meliara was. She was brash, stubborn, irrational, prejudiced, and very rude. She dove headlong into battle and never backed down into a vehicle for someone else’s motivations. I loved that even though she was so gung ho, she wasn’t perfect. She never escaped from battle spotless and wasn’t a magical fiend at sword play. To be honest, she was merely adequate. But it’s the second half that cemented the book firmly into my heart. I loved how she went into court and learned about the subtle art of political manipulations. The best part was the romance. Gosh, I swooned like a madwoman. (view spoiler)[I loved how Shevraeth courted her, by way of letters and gifts that firmly kept his identity unknown so she fell in love with him for his words and his personality and got to know him for who he was. I wouldn’t mind being courted this way either. *insert big wink here* (hide spoiler)] Meliara didn’t turn into a simpering idiot either. She planned parties out on her own, uncovered the mystery of the plot to overthrow the kingdom, and sacrificed herself to save everyone. She also grew and mellowed out as a character, realizing her flaws and working hard at overcoming them. Of course she didn’t turn into a saint and still kept facets of her impertinent personality at the forefront. What really made this sizzle was the short story added on in this omnibus. I squealed like a giddy girl when I got to the end. It really cemented their romance that wasn’t so prevalent in the novel and it’s so cute how they have their own misunderstandings but work through them. The love they have for each other is very evident and Shevraeth is one of the most sweetest, loving man ever. More young adult males have to be like this. Fabulous! You need to read this!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sherwood Smith

    Special edition: includes outtakes, and the edited version of Crown Duel that hereto only appeared in the e-book format.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I began to dislike the book early in the beginning, because Meliara has the same characteristics of other heroines that bother me. She is small, but feisty and tough, but small, and even though she's small, she fights. Did you understand that she is short and skinny? You understand that she's small, right? Despite the fact that Meliara is constantly being reminded/reminding us that she is small and feisty, the book was hard to put down, though I don't really understand why. I guess I still I began to dislike the book early in the beginning, because Meliara has the same characteristics of other heroines that bother me. She is small, but feisty and tough, but small, and even though she's small, she fights. Did you understand that she is short and skinny? You understand that she's small, right? Despite the fact that Meliara is constantly being reminded/reminding us that she is small and feisty, the book was hard to put down, though I don't really understand why. I guess I still wanted to know what was going to happen, even though I was fairly sure about the outcome. I liked few of the characters. Meliara's brother Bran needs to keep reminding us that he is an ignorant hick that now has a title (but he is still ignorant, and he is still a hick, even though he has a title). Parts of it are very predictable and unlikely, but if someone is reading fantasy, they should understand that unlikely things are going to happen. I couldn't read Shevraeth's first name without at least smirking, because it sounds like the name of the man in a romance novel. Vadanric. All in all, parts of it aren't as great as they could be, but I will probably read more of her books to see if they get better.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Catie

    3 stars First of all, I just want to say that I love the cover of this book. I love her black eyed scruffiness, her frosty stare, and most of all, the impressive sword clutched in her hand. Unfortunately, all of these elements led me to believe that this would be a sort of powerful and resourceful female heroine who saves the day type of book. And, I guess it sort of is. But if you go into this expecting the strength, determination, and steel of say, Alanna, then you’ll probably be disappointed. 3 ½ stars First of all, I just want to say that I love the cover of this book. I love her black eyed scruffiness, her frosty stare, and most of all, the impressive sword clutched in her hand. Unfortunately, all of these elements led me to believe that this would be a sort of powerful and resourceful female heroine who saves the day type of book. And, I guess it sort of is. But if you go into this expecting the strength, determination, and steel of say, Alanna, then you’ll probably be disappointed. It turns out that this girl is a bit of a sensitive softy underneath that menacing exterior. She makes a lot of mistakes, and she has blinders on the size of mud flaps. Also, she has negligible sword fighting ability, which she barely even uses. It took me a good while to really fall in love with this character (and I’m talking a good while – 360 pages in). However, she did win me over eventually. Meliara (Mel) and her brother Branaric (Bran) start out this tale as backwoods, unsophisticated nobles. They are titled, but they don’t spend time at court and instead Mel is allowed to run free around their country home, wearing her servants’ cast offs and attempting to tackle her family’s financial problems in her head, because she can barely read or write. Unfortunately, her family seems soon to be plunged into war, as the evil King is intent upon breaking a centuries’ old covenant with the mystical Hill Folk and taxing the commoners into poverty. When Mel and Bran’s father dies, it is left up to them to lead the small, ragged band of rebels and possibly make an attempt at the crown. The writing is spare and streamlined with very few bells and whistles, but it is also utterly absorbing. It flows quickly and effortlessly. After about page fifty, I had a very hard time putting this down. The writing itself reminds me quite a lot of Tamora Pierce, but I never really felt the same intense emotional connection with this book. It’s absorbing, but it isn’t as affecting. I think that I would actually give the first half (“Crown Duel”) three stars. It’s a bit repetitive. She runs, she hides, she gets caught, she fights ineffectually, and she passes out. Lather, rinse, repeat. I think that she loses consciousness about five or six times in this book all together. She seems to stumble upon the solutions to her problems accidentally, and not by design. Also, it’s always been one of my pet peeves to read about scrappy female heroines that travel on foot through the countryside for days on end, getting into fights and barely surviving, but somehow manage to do it all with six foot long hair. That is, until I saw this author photo of Sherwood Smith. Obviously, this is a woman who knows a little something about knee length hair care, so I am going to bow to her expertise on this issue. There’s quite a bit of romance in this book; more than I was expecting. It’s a bit like Anne of Green Gables and Pride and Prejudice with the plot of You’ve Got Mail thrown in at the end (wasn’t that itself a nod to P & P too?). The love interest plays everything close to his chest and seems withdrawn, moody, etc, etc, and Mel is quick to judge and take offense, etc, etc. Except that she takes the whole Anne Shirley/Elizabeth Bennet, “I’m going to hate you for some long forgotten slight for the rest of my life even though it’s completely illogical” thing to the nth degree. For example, upon stumbling into the love interest in a highly informative regal archive for about thirty seconds (during which he says almost nothing), she vows to never set foot in it again, ever. I kept thinking, why not just go when you know that he’s busy somewhere else? Are you going to avoid every single place that he’s ever been now? She also avoids every single government/decision making meeting (because he’s there) even though the entire reason that she comes to court is to determine who is best to rule. It’s incredibly hard to watch her shoot herself in the foot over and over again as she chooses to be willfully obtuse and blind about everything. However, she really redeems herself by the end, correcting and mending many of the problems that I intially had with her. And I did eventually feel a fondness for her naivete and youthfulness. The romance is very satisfying and sweet, and I grew to appreciate her love interest too. Although I am not typically a huge fan of blondes, there are a few notable exceptions. Perfect Musical Pairing Raphael Saadiq – Love That Girl This song is recent, but it reminds me of so many others. It may never be The Temptations or Marvin Gaye, but I still love it. Also, this MC has a gooey center that’s just so sweet and tender and even though I wasn’t expecting that, I’m still so glad I met her. (view spoiler)[So cheesy, but so true. (hide spoiler)]

  6. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

    I don't know what was wrong with me all this time. Something always kept me from reading this book. I can't even remember what is was anymore. Boy was I missing out. I should've read this book when I was younger, I would've loved this with every once of my being. Now that I've read more books I'm a bit more picky (but not by too much). The plot was excellent. The beginning was a bit fast without any real excitment going on. It seemed like Smith just wanted to skip some scenes to get to Mel's I don't know what was wrong with me all this time. Something always kept me from reading this book. I can't even remember what is was anymore. Boy was I missing out. I should've read this book when I was younger, I would've loved this with every once of my being. Now that I've read more books I'm a bit more picky (but not by too much). The plot was excellent. The beginning was a bit fast without any real excitment going on. It seemed like Smith just wanted to skip some scenes to get to Mel's adventure. She skipped battles and some details; I guess I'm used to more detail. I don't like tons of details just a little more would've been better. After things get going though this isn't a problem. There is capture, escape, close calls, and help all along the way. And Mel is the perfect girl for this journey. Even though she was ignorant about so many things, I never felt she was inferior to any of the more knowledgeable characters of the book. She used her head well and does what she can with what she has. I like the relationship she has with her brother. I also appreciated that the author didn't put in a love triangle. Hallelujah! It seems like all the books that have sequels that I've read lately have love triangles. Smith didn't really make the romance start in this book which I thought was good; Mel isn't ready for it yet. There is some hints but nothing really significant. No love at first sight that is for sure -on Mel's side anyways. It kind of reminded me of Elizabeth in P&P. Nit picking (can skip): I don't like it that she has knee length hair. That does not seem practical. She passes out at least 4 times. I know it's impossible to stay conscious when you've lost a lot of blood or been knock on the head but still, it's 4 times (possibly more). Loved the story and the protagonist. There is so much more I want to write but you'll just have to read the book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Branwen Sedai *of the Brown Ajah*

    People change just as the seasons change, and each spring brings new growth. So nothing is ever quite the same. Countess Meliara and her brother Bran promise their dying father that they will protect their people and the land from their tyrant of a King. But she soon learns that is easier said than done. For overthrowing the current ruler isn't all about battles and fighting and war. There is a war that takes place inside the politics of the palace as well. And Meliara must learn to think quick People change just as the seasons change, and each spring brings new growth. So nothing is ever quite the same. Countess Meliara and her brother Bran promise their dying father that they will protect their people and the land from their tyrant of a King. But she soon learns that is easier said than done. For overthrowing the current ruler isn't all about battles and fighting and war. There is a war that takes place inside the politics of the palace as well. And Meliara must learn to think quick on her feet and adapt if she is to survive. I can't say enough about this book! I was hooked from the first chapter and it kept me loving it until the very end. Whereas many fantasy books focus on battles and action (and this book did have its fair share of battles also) the primary focus of this story was centered on the intrigue and battle of wits and power that take place within the palace itself. Courtly politics and flirtations abound and it takes all of your intelligence and cunning to say above water in this type of situation! If you enjoy the castle politics in The Song of Ice and Fire series (minus the bloodbaths) than you would also enjoy this book, because that is the main focus. I loved it. The book was long, and it provided ample time to get to know the characters really well and just overall draw you into their world. A wonderful fantasy book! :)

  8. 4 out of 5

    Hallie

    Before I start this review, I’m just going to do a bit of basking in the feeling that I was wonderfully smart to abandon my huge to-read and maybe-read lists and reread this. I’m really not doing any rereading at the moment, which is the sad flip-side of discovering so many new books from friends here, so it was unusual enough to merit some comment. (If not basking, in all honesty.) That done, I also want to mention that I got the updated-with-extras ebook from Book View Café for this reread, Before I start this review, I’m just going to do a bit of basking in the feeling that I was wonderfully smart to abandon my huge to-read and maybe-read lists and reread this. I’m really not doing any rereading at the moment, which is the sad flip-side of discovering so many new books from friends here, so it was unusual enough to merit some comment. (If not basking, in all honesty.) That done, I also want to mention that I got the updated-with-extras ebook from Book View Café for this reread, despite owning the original two hardbacks, and probably the combined paperback with “Vidanric’s Birthday Surprise” in it as well, though Becca might have stolen taken that with her. I’m extremely happy to have done so, happy enough that I also got my thieving daughter (still Becca) a copy too. One of the reasons I was glad to have bought the ebook was made even more clear when I read the “About Book View Café” bit at the end; authors get 95% of profits, which has to be pretty unique. The other reason was the inclusion of the “Inserts”, which are short stories showing Vidanric’s point of view. They were apparently shared on LJ’s Athanarel community, but they were so perfect read immediately after finishing Court Duel that I’m happy I missed them there. So. I’m leaving my short write-up from 2008 at the bottom of this reread one, though it doesn’t say much about why I love the books so much, just that they were favourites for both me and my two, Becca and Cara, from the moment I got Crown Duel back in 1999. I almost wish I’d done a slower reread, so I had time to stop and write updates along the way, but that was not going to happen. I do know that one of those updates would have mentioned how hugely relieved I felt when Mel comes back to consciousness and finds herself on a horse again, not with Vidanric but with Captain Nessaren. On my first read it was a delightful surprise to have a female captain, but while I’m still just as delighted it’s no longer a surprise that Sherwood does female characters so well. (Not that there’s anything cookie-cutter about her portrayal of females, ever – Mel for example, is brave, loyal and utterly steadfast, but is not a particularly good fighter.) So the relief came because Mel is so alone and afraid, for such a long time during her flight, and even more so after she’s captured and taken before the king, and I knew she was safe now. Another update would probably have mentioned how thoroughly convincing the depiction of Mel’s feelings of humiliation is. It’s downright frustrating – in a very good sense – the way seeing a person you care about beating themselves up or feeling worthless is, when you know that you can’t get them to see there’s no need for the feeling. I’m coming back to this shortly. A third would have been a sudden odd feeling I had during one of the scenes between Mel and Vidanric, of wanting him to be like a big, fluffy dog and jump in her lap with muddy paws and nudge her hand repeatedly until she gave in and patted him, dammit. You all do know those dogs, right? Instead he sat being very quiet and self-contained across the room, like a supercilious cat. (Okay, I’m a dog person. Doesn’t mean I haven’t known very affectionate cats and snotty dogs, of course, but no matter how cat-wise your personal orientation, you’re going to have to give me this one for here and now.) I’m going to come back to this too, but when I read it to Cara (who was only ten at the time), she started saying “They’re going to get married!” very early, in part, I think, because we’d been watching the BBC Pride and Prejudice. On this read, though, it also struck me how very (very) well the narrative, firmly in Mel’s perspective, gets across the fact that Vidanric is a good guy, who can be trusted, and that he doesn’t disdain her - quite the opposite - and that he’s absolutely and utterly screwed in trying to get her to see any of this. Far from being “predictable” (in a negative sense), it’s a wonderfully subtle version of romance’s often-annoying Big Misunderstanding trope that is based on intelligent, rounded characterization, and these character’s lives. That’s why the “Inserts” are so poignant when read right after the books. We’re seeing through Mel’s perspective, which goes through her ill-informed, and almost blinded by humiliation and self-doubt, filters. No matter what we as readers feel or think we know about the rest of the world, Mel can’t be there yet. All along we also notice how she tries hard not to hurt anyone (possible exceptions made for Vidanric), and not to blame others for the terror and humiliation caused her by the king (and Vidanric, as she initially believes), and it’s so real it’s painful. Then we get to see some scenes again, through Vidanric’s not-at-all-cold or detached perspective, and a few of the stories had me on the verge of tears. (The candlestick.) Others were hilarious (“smitten-boy”), and I felt again, as I did after finishing A Stranger to Command, that I really want a book about Savona too. All in all, they’re just lovely. I just found that Melissa and I had had a discussion about the books, on the Diana Wynne Jones discussion mailing list, back in early 2000. We both loved them, so no disagreement there, but she said that Mel and Vidanric reminded her strongly of Elizabeth and Darcy, and I disagreed with that. It was rather a surprise to find that I had argued against what seems in most ways a totally sound comparison, but that’s what I’d done. That was just before I started studying for a degree in English literature with the Open University and while I’d loved English in school, and had enjoyed analysing novels, I had never come across the concept of genre. I still agree with a lot of what I said about how different the two (eventual) couples feel, while also agreeing with what Melissa said, but there’s a similarity in my mind now between the two that derives from Pride and Prejudice’s being a 19th-century realist novel. I'll get to it via Mel and Elizabeth. I see them as ending up reacting in similar manner through being almost the inverse of each other in one way. Mel finds it difficult to see Vidanric as anything other than the enemy, even when she knows he was working against the real enemy, and it’s her own feelings of inferiority and belief that she’s ignorant and wrong that prevent her from seeing him in a different light. Elizabeth, for all we love her, is unable to see anything good in Darcy because her own belief in her superior judgments and clear-sighted views of others blinds her. She stops thinking critically about the behaviour of others because she’s so convinced that she always thinks critically and clearly. What is similar about all four characters is the fact that their behaviour is in perfect keeping with their upbringing in their particular part of this world. Back to what I said about Pride and Prejudice, the realist novel tries to make the setting so very real in order to deliver a moral lesson that has weight with the reader. The world seen in Crown/Court Duel - well, obviously “mimetic” isn’t quite the word for a fantasy - but it has the same sense of realness, of having histories and cultures and societies behind the ones we see on-stage during the book's action. I don’t think that Crown/Court Duel is trying to impart a moral lesson, but I do believe that its true moral strength is made more -- accessible, maybe -- because of that likeness to the classic realist novel. There’s a lot more I could say about how the many ways this book is wonderful, but this is probably far too long for comfort anyway. I loved this reread so much that I felt rather bereft when I’d finished, the way you do after a visit with someone you love is over. It was definitely not the melancholy of reading an old favourite and finding it didn’t measure up - exactly the opposite. No matter how few rereads I do in the future, I'll make time to revisit Mel and Vidanric more often. [From 2008] My introduction to Sherwood Smith, when I followed up on an Amazon recommendation, partly because I loved the cover. Read it to my older daughter, who loved it, ordered Court Duel, later read it to my younger daughter, who loved it, and have never stopped reading Sherwood's books since. If I had to choose the one thing I most value about her books, it'd be a toss-up between the incredible depth to the world and what comes across of the author's moral depth. These aren't the kinds of books in which the Enemy will be pure Evil, just because he/she/the country is the Enemy. And you'll never, ever read a book which does the fantasy by-the-numbers and the world makes no sense at all. Great characters, lots of story, and fantastic world-building.

  9. 5 out of 5

    R.J.

    I enjoyed this book (well, technically "these books," but omnibus edition, so "book" is also accurate) the first time I read it a few years ago, but this time I downright loved it. I don't know why it only occurred to me on this reading that it's essentially a high-fantasy-with-war version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, because it now seems almost absurdly obvious, but that just makes it even more wonderful in my estimation. Sherwood Smith does great worldbuilding, lively characters moved by deep I enjoyed this book (well, technically "these books," but omnibus edition, so "book" is also accurate) the first time I read it a few years ago, but this time I downright loved it. I don't know why it only occurred to me on this reading that it's essentially a high-fantasy-with-war version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, because it now seems almost absurdly obvious, but that just makes it even more wonderful in my estimation. Sherwood Smith does great worldbuilding, lively characters moved by deep loyalties and powerful emotions (or powerful restraints, in the case of a certain drawling courtier), charming repartee, and deliciously smart, subtle, slow-burn romance -- my favorite kind. Meliara's stubbornness about holding a certain grudge in Book 1 and her inability to see what is right in front of her nose in Book 2 strains credulity at times, but the text lampshades it fairly well and the payoff is so great that I really can't complain. (Besides, the same thing could be said of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, so Smith is in excellent company.) Definitely one of my favorite fantasy novels, and I can only wish I'd discovered it earlier so I could claim it as an influence. Though given a couple of familiar-sounding phrases and observations I noted in the book, I suspect there are a few currently popular YA fantasy authors out there who can claim it as such...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Proffitt

    I love this story and have reread it a couple of times over the years. A new edition with new scenes from Vidanric's point of view has been released through Book View Café, making this a great time to read it again. I highly recommend getting this edition as the price is incredible and the added stories justify the cost alone. If you're already a fan, you'll enjoy the added insights and Smith's writing keeps it fresh and much more than a simple retelling of the familiar in slightly altered form. I love this story and have reread it a couple of times over the years. A new edition with new scenes from Vidanric's point of view has been released through Book View Café, making this a great time to read it again. I highly recommend getting this edition as the price is incredible and the added stories justify the cost alone. If you're already a fan, you'll enjoy the added insights and Smith's writing keeps it fresh and much more than a simple retelling of the familiar in slightly altered form. If you aren't already a fan, then I envy you the experience of enjoying this book for the first time (and encourage you to get right on it). Smith is a master of her craft, delivering vivid description, immersive world building, fully developed characters, and an engaging plot in a story that held me enthralled even as familiar as I am with it already. And now I find myself in some difficulty. Both Melissa and Hallie have written such excellent (and in-depth) reviews recently that I find I have little else to add. Being the lazy coward that I am, I'll simply recommend you drop by either (or both) of their links if you want more in-depth analysis of the book and why it is so great.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Melissa McShane

    Jacob pointed out that there are spoilers in this, and rather than locate them all, or put the whole thing behind a spoiler tag (it's not that bad) I'm going to post this warning. Read the book first. You should probably do that anyway. *** I dove into this yesterday evening and emerged, satisfied, some hours later, after which I spent more hours thinking and replaying parts in my head, because that is what I do when I don’t quite want to let go of a book. I read this first in two parts, back in Jacob pointed out that there are spoilers in this, and rather than locate them all, or put the whole thing behind a spoiler tag (it's not that bad) I'm going to post this warning. Read the book first. You should probably do that anyway. *** I dove into this yesterday evening and emerged, satisfied, some hours later, after which I spent more hours thinking and replaying parts in my head, because that is what I do when I don’t quite want to let go of a book. I read this first in two parts, back in 1999 or 2000, and (thanks to Hallie, who is obsessive sometimes) I know I went out and paid good money to own the pair immediately afterward. And yet I find I can’t go back to it very often; I am overwhelmed by how very much I identify with Meliara and how caught up I am in her trials, whether she’s running from the evil king’s minions or trying to negotiate her way through a court that is utterly alien to her. Now I’ve read the e-book version available from Book View Café, with all the extra bits from Vidanric’s point of view—but more about that later. The first thing that always strikes me is the depth of this world and the constant sense that there are so many more countries out there in it, going about their business and only peripherally brushing up against Mel’s country Remalna. They don’t matter to this story, but they could, because they all have histories that interconnect, and I like that in a secondary world fantasy. What occurred to me this time, and I’m not sure if I should be kicking myself for not noticing this before, is that it’s the world itself, in the person of the Hill Folk, that comes to the rescue both in Crown Duel and Court Duel. And the reason I think I should be kicking myself is that Mel’s opening explanation of the Covenant and the Fire Sticks and the Hill Folk acts as a sort of warning, advance notice of what’s coming later: This is Important. It’s not just important for our ability to understand the world (and I can’t even call this infodumping, it’s done so well) but as a reminder that in Remalna, there’s an underlying magic that has nothing to do with humans, and yet in these two instances, that magic takes a powerful interest in what humans do. So why am I not shouting deus ex machina? Because these endings, the Hill Folk making arrows sprout like branches, the Hill Folk taking a hand to end a threat to themselves and the land, come as the direct result of action by humans—not just Mel, but everyone who’s involved in reclaiming Remalna from the corruption that’s been eating at its heart for however long Galdran and his family were in power. One small way this is evident to me is the final end of the Duke of Grumareth, turned to stone by Flauvic and then shattered, who should have returned to bloody flesh and was transformed instead into clear stones. The Hill Folk might have acted out of self-interest, but they pay attention to humans as well. And what humans they are. I am endlessly fascinated by how the characters in this book, even the minor ones, fairly burst with personality. Nessaren, for one—we can never have too many woman warriors who are convincing in the role. Meliara’s “flirts” (only one of them, I think, is sincere), particularly Savona, who’s charming but obviously not interested in more than that superficial flirtation; I liked seeing him in one of the Vidanric stories at the end, the poor man. His relationship with Tamara is another delight, since I don’t think either of them really knows what he or she wants, which means I don’t know what to wish for; you’d think that would be distressing, but for me it’s part of what makes them both human and therefore complicated. The people Mel encounters in her desperate attempts to stay ahead of Galdran’s men, all of them as generous as they’re able to be. Then Bran and Nee—I have trouble loving Bran, who seems cursed to always say the wrong thing to his sensitive sister, but Nee makes a good contrast to Mel and a good confidante. And the villains—all the Merindars, who are each evil in their own special way, and Debegri, who is refreshingly simple in his straightforward, uncomplicated love of hurting others. I love that they are all so memorable. I love that each has a part to play in the bigger story. That story, of course, is Meliara’s—and Vidanric’s, because from the moment she’s pulled out of that trap on the mountain, their stories are intertwined. Their first meeting is under such conditions that Mel can’t trust him, which is natural, but that lack of trust combined with several near-fatal misunderstandings puts her in a position where she cannot bring herself to trust him, even when her mistakes are pointed out to her. Because at this point, it’s not about trust; how can you forgive someone for having seen you at your worst, humiliated, ignorant, constantly doing the wrong thing, whose very presence is a reminder of all those failures? Mel never sees herself the way others do, as a hero, mainly because she knows whatever successes she’s had have been ones she’s stumbled into, and although I feel tremendous empathy for Mel, it’s Vidanric I feel sorry for: in love with someone who hates the sight of him, unable to correct for those original misunderstandings, filled with admiration for someone who doesn’t know how powerful she is. My favorite of the Vidanric stories is the episode with the candlestick. Seeing that from both sides was just marvelous—Vidanric from Mel’s perspective is cool, aloof, always in control (he did catch that candlestick!), but inside his head he’s going over how he’s going to do everything right so she’ll stop hating him just a little bit. And he gets everything wrong. If I didn’t love him before, I did at that moment. The plot is about reclaiming a kingdom, told from Mel’s perspective, but there’s also so much going on behind the scenes, as is evident in the Vidanric extras at the end of the new edition. I like the depth of plot enough that those stories, instead of annoying me, gave me glimpses of what the story would have been like as a political thriller instead of an adventure-romance. (There was a chance I’d be annoyed by them because Vidanric is such a good Mysterious Stranger, and seeing through his eyes might diminish that aspect of the romance. I probably shouldn’t have been worried.) I’m not going to go to the lengths of wishing for a second version of the whole novel from Vidanric’s perspective, but I wouldn’t be sad to see one. Because, really, I like seeing the plot through Meliara’s eyes. I like that even though her initial beliefs are shaped by what her father has and hasn’t taught her (and I think he’s a candidate for Worst Parent Ever) she’s able to winnow out what’s true about her ideals from the chaff of ignorance surrounding them. I like that she’s able to overcome her humiliation to become humble enough to apologize to Vidanric. And I like that who she is, at heart, gives shape to the story. According to my records, it’s been almost ten years since I last read Crown Duel. I wonder if it will be another ten years before I read it again? Maybe. But I think it is the rare book that stays with me so profoundly that it feels like those ten years were nothing. So I’m going to give it to my daughter now, and I hope she loves it like I do.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Carla *Jen7waters*

    I loved this book! Loved, loved, LOOOOVED IT! *happy mode* Even if part 1 and part 2 are so different - I loved the story itself, the scenarios, the chases, even the battles, the parties and the gowns, and most of all, the rebellious and CRAZY-stubborn heroine Meliara and her extreme, blind, completely prejudiced dislike towards Vidanric, when he clearly loves her in Mr.Darcy's style: with heavenly patience and absolute subtleness. (Well, if one doesn’t count The Wager part. Meliara, how could I loved this book! Loved, loved, LOOOOVED IT! *happy mode* Even if part 1 and part 2 are so different - I loved the story itself, the scenarios, the chases, even the battles, the parties and the gowns, and most of all, the rebellious and CRAZY-stubborn heroine Meliara and her extreme, blind, completely prejudiced dislike towards Vidanric, when he clearly loves her in Mr.Darcy's style: with heavenly patience and absolute subtleness. (Well, if one doesn’t count The Wager part. Meliara, how could you not see it? It was right under your nose, the whole time!) Highly recommended for: fans of historical fantasy in general, readers who love a Lizzy and Mr.Darcy type of relationship, people who loved Poison Study by Maria V.Snyder and The Dark Mirror by Juliet Marillier and wonder what could come out of a mix between the two (at least in some aspects like: tiny weird looking feisty heroine who loves to take baths is in constant danger and on the run by herself due to political and royal affairs + forest creatures). *PT*Cuidado com o Dálmata - Crown Duel

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. The protagonist of this book drove me CRAZY. For one thing, a significant percentage of the chapters end with her fainting or otherwise falling unconscious. More importantly, she decides she doesn't like the romantic hero for no reason except so that they won't get together in the first 100 pages, but then she spontaneously trusts an anonymous person who gives her gifts and writes her letters, even though she's surrounded by hostile rivals and has no reason to believe said person isn't just The protagonist of this book drove me CRAZY. For one thing, a significant percentage of the chapters end with her fainting or otherwise falling unconscious. More importantly, she decides she doesn't like the romantic hero for no reason except so that they won't get together in the first 100 pages, but then she spontaneously trusts an anonymous person who gives her gifts and writes her letters, even though she's surrounded by hostile rivals and has no reason to believe said person isn't just gathering information on her? NO SENSE. IT MAKES NO SENSE.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

    Crown Duel is an old favorite, and I've lost count of the times I have revisited Remalna, the magical kingdom Crown Duel takes place in. If you're looking for a book to get for a young teen who loves fantasy and you'd like it to have the kind of romance healthy relationships are based on, I highly recommend this novel. Meliara Astiar is a stubborn, hotheaded countess who is as honest as she is ignorant. The novel begins in a drafty room in the Tlanth castle, where Bran and Mel swear to their Crown Duel is an old favorite, and I've lost count of the times I have revisited Remalna, the magical kingdom Crown Duel takes place in. If you're looking for a book to get for a young teen who loves fantasy and you'd like it to have the kind of romance healthy relationships are based on, I highly recommend this novel. Meliara Astiar is a stubborn, hotheaded countess who is as honest as she is ignorant. The novel begins in a drafty room in the Tlanth castle, where Bran and Mel swear to their father that they will protect the precious Tlanth colorwoods from the grasp of Galdran Merindar, Remalna's wicked king. The two lead a revolt, and though their intentions are good, they really do not know the first thing about how to lead a revolt or, for that matter, manage a kingdom should that revolt prove successful. Mel soon finds herself in an enemy camp, captured and soon to be shipped off to the capital to face the king's justice. Her escape is clumsy, and her efforts to do well more than a little endearing. As she limps across Remalna's countryside, she starts to learn that there is more to revolution than simply knocking a bad king off the throne: she realizes the repercussions of civil war. Meanwhile, poor Mel has to deal with the Marquis of Shevreath, a mysterious fop who, despite his reputation for being a total airhead, somehow seems to be the one who is always capturing her, leading to a very uncomfortable relationship indeed! It is impossible to review the second book without giving away the first, so I will refrain from spoiling the story with summary. Suffice to say that the second book, Court Duel is even more entertaining than the first, full of secret admirers, balls, and a world of court intrigue highlighted by fan language. Sherwood Smith is a master of fantasy, whether it takes place in muddy fields or in glittering ballrooms, and she seems to hit human nature straight on the head with some of her observations. Mel is a highly likable character, and her thoughts and feelings resounded with me. If you love escapist novels where you can get lost in the fantasy countryside, look no further.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Shadi ***save your ratings use disclaimers**

    I almost rated this a 3 star but I decided to bump it up since I enjoyed the story even if it wasn't what I expected. However, this was not really a fantasy story. It was more historical adventure/romance with a random fantasy story byline that added to the story but it wasn't a central focal point. This was about a pretty average girl coming of age and growing into an adult. I really enjoyed the world Ms Smith created with the court and the detail she put into it but I wish she had put a little I almost rated this a 3 star but I decided to bump it up since I enjoyed the story even if it wasn't what I expected. However, this was not really a fantasy story. It was more historical adventure/romance with a random fantasy story byline that added to the story but it wasn't a central focal point. This was about a pretty average girl coming of age and growing into an adult. I really enjoyed the world Ms Smith created with the court and the detail she put into it but I wish she had put a little more time into her fantasy side of the storyline.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    (Updated Review Jan 11, 2014) This was a lighter tale of political intrigue and danger, with a little bit of magic, and a good dash of romance. This edition is actually two books in one. Crown Duel, the first book, focuses on a rebellion against the king, with several people going after the crown. This book, I would maybe rate 3 stars, even though it was "just ok." I must have been in the right mood to read it at the time. It is full of adventure and calamity, as the heroine, Mel, escapes from (Updated Review Jan 11, 2014) This was a lighter tale of political intrigue and danger, with a little bit of magic, and a good dash of romance. This edition is actually two books in one. Crown Duel, the first book, focuses on a rebellion against the king, with several people going after the crown. This book, I would maybe rate 3 stars, even though it was "just ok." I must have been in the right mood to read it at the time. It is full of adventure and calamity, as the heroine, Mel, escapes from one dangerous situation to another. I honestly found the nonstop being-on-the-run kind of tiring, but was interested enough to read on. I also found that Mel was quick to hate and slow to forgive, especially once she found out what was happening and should have been able to adjust to her new understanding of the situation. I feel like her stubbornness was mistaken for strength. I was glad when the second book, Court Duel, ended up being more a Comedy of Manners, with political maneuvering and intrigue at court and a frustrated romance. I enjoyed this much more because I do enjoy the twists and betrayals of political intrigue, but mainly because I loved the poor hero. I guess I'm a sucker for a guy who can stay so in love when he is constantly scorned. I really felt for him. The bonus chapters at the end are written from his point of view, and they were a wonderful treat because I liked him so much more than Mel. So this was by no means perfect, but I was still glued to the pages, trying to find out how the totally annoying and stubbornly prejudiced girl was going to learn the truth and finally be transformed. Mel's refusal to examine her own reactions or to re-evaluate her opinions when she realized she was ignorant or wrong was frustrating. She certainly had plenty of room to grow, but since she did get there in the end, I could forgive her for her blindness. I give the second book 4 stars, even though it's maybe not as strong a book as others I've rated highly. Sometimes I really do just like the romance and so can ignore everything else.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    I'm actually not sure if Crown Duel is considered YA or not, but given that I heard about this on the recommendation of a YA book blogger, and it seemed to fit that mode as I read it, I'm calling it YA. I liked this well enough, with one major exception. Originally published as two books, Crown Duel was republished as one book with two parts, which I think works. My 3 star rating is actually a personal reaction to the main character, Meliara. I've developed this vendetta against a certain kind I'm actually not sure if Crown Duel is considered YA or not, but given that I heard about this on the recommendation of a YA book blogger, and it seemed to fit that mode as I read it, I'm calling it YA. I liked this well enough, with one major exception. Originally published as two books, Crown Duel was republished as one book with two parts, which I think works. My 3 star rating is actually a personal reaction to the main character, Meliara. I've developed this vendetta against a certain kind of "tough girl" heroine, an archetype that I think is pretty popular in YA books. I'm all for a woman being strong and resourceful, but too often I feel authors interpret a woman being "badass" as someone who is belligerent, abrasive, and reckless. I'm tired of this tough girl heroine who insists on jumping to conclusions, holds massive grudges without reason and often to the contrary of evidence right in front of her, and who reacts first with anger and later with rationality. I feel it's demeaning to women to suppose that they have to be overly aggressive and irrational if they want to be taken seriously. To me, it's just an extension of the over-emotionality women are accused of having. Wow, that's heavy stuff for a book review! Meliara was smart and brave, but also blind to what was in front of her and rubbed me the wrong way with her snottiness. I feel this isn't a reflection on the author or the book, but rather my own personality and dislikes. I know tons of readers who love this type of heroine, so I'll consider myself in the minority! Smith is an interesting writer and I'd love to try more of her work, but maybe I'll be aware that the heroine may not be my cup of tea.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Chachic

    Reread in 2019 because I posted a bookstagram about the book and missed the characters enough to go back for a reread. The Kindle edition includes the outtakes from Vidanric's POV. 2010 Review: This is a duology, originally published as two books (Crown Duel and Court Duel) but Firebird combined both books in one edition. Meliara (Mel for short), the impoverished Countess of Tlanth, tells the story from her point of view. I loved the fact that Mel is such an unreliable narrator and how the story Reread in 2019 because I posted a bookstagram about the book and missed the characters enough to go back for a reread. The Kindle edition includes the outtakes from Vidanric's POV. 2010 Review: This is a duology, originally published as two books (Crown Duel and Court Duel) but Firebird combined both books in one edition. Meliara (Mel for short), the impoverished Countess of Tlanth, tells the story from her point of view. I loved the fact that Mel is such an unreliable narrator and how the story unfolded from the way she sees things. The first part of the book involves a war against a tyrant of a king because both Mel and her brother Branaric promised their father that they will do what they can to oust the king from the throne. While the second part of the book involves court intrigue and politics. Mel is a believable character because she blunders and is not afraid to admit when she makes mistakes. I've been giving this book as a gift a lot lately and to one friend, I included a note that said "I know you haven't read a lot of fantasy and this is a good book to get you started because this is YA fantasy at its finest." This book has everything - incredible world-building, believable characters, intelligent dialogue, subtle romance, court intrigue. I've reread this book a couple of times and it just doesn't get old for me. Sherwood also posted a couple of outtakes in her website. You can check these out after reading the book because these are scenes of Crown Duel, written from Vidanric's point of view.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Wealhtheow

    Raised in obscurity and poverty, Countess Melaria vows vengeance against the tyrant ruling her country. She and her older brother embark upon an ill-advised guerilla war. Despite the naivete of her side (they consider itching powder in bedding a particularly successful tactic), they drive off the first commander--who is replaced by Shevraeth, a Scarlet Pimpernell type. He easily defeats the ragtag peasant army Melaria leads, then uses his triumphant return to the capital to stage an effective Raised in obscurity and poverty, Countess Melaria vows vengeance against the tyrant ruling her country. She and her older brother embark upon an ill-advised guerilla war. Despite the naivete of her side (they consider itching powder in bedding a particularly successful tactic), they drive off the first commander--who is replaced by Shevraeth, a Scarlet Pimpernell type. He easily defeats the ragtag peasant army Melaria leads, then uses his triumphant return to the capital to stage an effective coup. The second half (initially the second book, entitled Court Duel) chronicles Melaria’s time in the capital, where Shevraeth has been trying to bloodlessly consolidate power and create an effective and fair system of government. This could have been a funny, meta look at fantasy tropes, in which the feisty but jejune heroine keeps accidentally fouling up the true hero’s plans. Unfortunately, even though Melaria is completely useless at everything, everyone falls in love with her. So what if every battle scene ends with Melaria fainting or getting thumped upside the head—she’s a courageous warrior! So what if she trusts all the wrong people for all the wrong reasons--Shevraeth admires her uncomplicated thinking. Shevraeth is in love with Melaria, of course, and near the end of the novel Melaria begins to realize this and fall in love with him as well. Their romance was at least as unbelievable as the earlier war scenes.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alissa

    “It is a shame that so few have the time or inclination for scholarship these days. There is much entertainment to be afforded in perusing the mistakes of our forebears.”

  21. 4 out of 5

    kris

    Also read: Meliara Astair, Countess of Tlanth, only wants to overthrow the tyrant King Galdran. It shouldn't be that hard—right? Stir up a little revolt, escape the clutches of the enigmatic Marquis of Shevraeth a few times, not die from infection, and survive hand-to-hand combat. Easy. Except revolution is only the beginning, and Mel's got some learnin' to do. When I was a young(er) person, I read so voraciously that I often didn't have new materials on hand to fill the gaps in my days, which Also read: ∞ Meliara Astair, Countess of Tlanth, only wants to overthrow the tyrant King Galdran. It shouldn't be that hard—right? Stir up a little revolt, escape the clutches of the enigmatic Marquis of Shevraeth a few times, not die from infection, and survive hand-to-hand combat. Easy. Except revolution is only the beginning, and Mel's got some learnin' to do. When I was a young(er) person, I read so voraciously that I often didn't have new materials on hand to fill the gaps in my days, which meant I found myself returning repeatedly to the same handful of books I owned and loved. I read some of them to literal pieces: when the cover falls off, it's a sign. All that said, it has been a handful of years or so since I've revisited some of those books (thank you internet gods for the now-instantaneous access to ALL THE BOOKS) and my rereads have been an interesting reopening of all the strange personal emotional shit I packed into these stories when I read them as a girl, and a weird examination of why I like the things I do. Basically: my thoughts on this book are subject to emotional bias, full stop. I also am going to talk about Crown Duel as if it were one book: this is mostly because it was how I originally consumed the thing, and trying to divide my reactions into Volume One and Volume Two would result in 300% confusion for everyone. Here ends the disclaimer section~~ 1. Mel is such a stubborn, prideful character. She's hard to like if you don't agree with some of her messier decisions, and I wish the story did a slightly better job in clarifying the why behind some of her actions. But the power of her character is this: she acts, at first, as she thinks she must ("The Chosen One"), trying to save her world from the evil that inhabits it; later, she must learn to live with the ramifications of those actions. Without quite meaning to, Mel becomes a heroine for her country and while she can see and identify the gaps that exist in the narrative that has been built around her, Remalna doesn't and therefore she must stay the course in order to fulfill the promises she has made: to herself, to her father, to Tlanth, and most important, to Remalna and its people. And that's an interesting story, and one I definitely didn't fully "get" when I read this book as a smaller human. Because it is such a complicated knot of persona and person; intent and ignorance; determination and desire. The core of this story isn't around the fantasy or the magic, but around perception of self and how our action can be read or misread in the context of a larger conversation. And that's a Big Idea, y'know? It's not a simple "The Chosen One Saves the World Accompanied by Love Interests 1+2" narrative and that keeps it a good read. 2. The pacing is a bit of a mess, however: the penultimate confrontation with Shevraeth and everything that comes after it feels absolutely rushed af. There's no room to pause, or to let the reader steep in the changes being wrought upon us and upon Mel. We have been present for 410+ pages of Mel's life and worldview and in the span of 40 pages, the understood field changes. Sure, there's some evidence about what's going to happen, but it definitely could have been better baked into the earlier bits with a little more weight given to it. Also, regardless of narrative impact, I wanted more on a personal level. For reasons. 3. Yes, this thing is in first person POV. I understand why it is so but I don't have to like it. 4. THERE IS COURTSHIP VIA LETTERS THO AND IT GOOD!! IT SO GOOD!!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Gail Carriger

    This is a great book, a fantasy dealing out escape and battle, political maneuvering, and court etiquette underwritten by a beautiful romance of miscommunication. Crown Duel is two novella length stories (Crown Duel & Court Duel) about the same characters combined into one novel. Mel is a strong capable single minded heroine, very like Elizabeth Bennett, only with a sword at her side. Her love interest is clever, appealing, and gentle.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jia Ling Pan

    3.5 Stars. Quite liked it for its 'sweet and simple' story. Sometimes I think there should be a genre known as 'charming quintessential fantasy'; for the books that don't reinvent the fantasy genre but still maintains to be quite enjoyable if albeit predictable. This book is actually a compilation of 2 books in the series (Crown Duel and Court Duel). The Kindle version comes compiled with about 30 to 40 pages of extras, previously written for the author's livejournal page. I'm not sure if the 3.5 Stars. Quite liked it for its 'sweet and simple' story. Sometimes I think there should be a genre known as 'charming quintessential fantasy'; for the books that don't reinvent the fantasy genre but still maintains to be quite enjoyable if albeit predictable. This book is actually a compilation of 2 books in the series (Crown Duel and Court Duel). The Kindle version comes compiled with about 30 to 40 pages of extras, previously written for the author's livejournal page. I'm not sure if the printed version of the book has it as they are not part of the numbering when I read it on my Kindle App. 'Crown Duel' is the story of how at the deathbed of their count father, siblings Bran and Meliara make a pact to overthrow a horrible king that has been slowly ruining his nation, and their fief included. We see the stories through the eyes of Meliara, a headstrong, impetuous girl with a big heart. In the first half of the duology, I must admit that Meliara has moments of severe naivety and ignorance that grated at me. Complete with fire spitting anger born of a voracious temper. Not to fear though, this does ebb drastically to become something rather endearing as do all her faults (her ignorance being one of a few that are rather obvious). Here is a heroine who really does have the purest of intentions. Choices she makes are mostly out of the love she bears her also flawed brother and her people. Being physically tiny, she does not in anyway become extremely capable in acts of fighting. Mentally though, she is a force to be reckoned with later on as she sharpens her mind and her rectifies her lack of knowledge as the story progresses. Her encounter with the aloof yet elegant Marquis of Shervraeth (a total mouthful I know) is the bread and butter of the story to me. While we are obviously thrown into the idea that this is her intended romance partner, it hardly begins in that manner at all. Their meeting is one of grievous circumstances which sends Meliara into the painful understanding of how uninformed, naive and unaware she has been kept all her life. She develops a sort of prejudice for our dear Marquis in the duration of her rather painful escapade. Their repeated encounters full of harsh words and misunderstandings. I loved their encounters because while it was Meliara's rather unprecedented prejudice towards him which made their encounters interesting, it also really developed them far beyond the common love story that it comes off as initially. The first half of the book closes with the end of the revolution and her return to her humble abode, with much left unsaid and unsettled between her and the Marquis. She returns a little wiser and richer, thus beginning to rebuild the home. The we move into 'Court Duels', the second half of the duology. This is the book where Meliara's growing character begins to shine as she takes on tasks which she is far better suited for. Enhancing her mind and engrossing herself in political matters. Circumstances arise which force her to go back to court; with obvious reluctance considering her disastrous first experience. Court Duels really brings out what is interesting about the series. Though there is obvious mention of magic in the world and Meliara has a great respect for the 'Hill Folk' of the story, what has been well put out is the political struggle for power which we only got a taste of in the first book. Be warned, there is quite a contrast to the setting and themes presented in the first half as opposed to the second half. I felt it transitioned quite decently but it may sit ill with some. The narrative style of the book brings you along in such a way that Meliara's realizations is your realizations as well. The political finesse surrounding the Marquis (from here on out I shall call him Vidanric), is quite well executed for a young adult fantasy. It is neither overly convoluted nor shallow. A late bloomer in many ways, Meliara begins to recognize matters of the heart which she had previously been ignorant of. One would expect a simpering teenager, but it is her clear headedness which allows her character to shine above the initial flaws in the second book. Its rare to see a character not fall to the whims and fancy of a pretty face. Not to spoil anyone who has not read the book, but what I do love about the romance is that it is a romance born of respect and not fiery impulsive passion. Tis a longer perhaps more painful to watch but more fruitful outcome for any couple and it was very rewarding to see the moment of realization which had been obvious to me, but not obvious to the main character (as always :) ). While Vidanric may not be my favourite male character alive, I really love that he respected Meliara and the people around him which forced his hand on more than enough occassions. While the fight scenes are not as descriptive nor is it the most interesting, it is enough for what we need to know of the tale. I expect some people will be annoyed that Meliara gets saved a few times throughout the story, but it didn't bother me. It rather strengthened her image as an intellectual rather than one who was sporty. Less adherence to the heroine stereotype of growing up in the wilderness automatically meaning the heroine will be practically a combat prodigy. The little extras from livejournal at the back, at the end of the duology is rather informal in its depiction, but even more charming to me. The extras encompass the POV of Vidanric throughout most of his more noted encounters with Meliara and we get a much deeper insight to his reasonings during those key points. It also really opens up his character to the reader as Vidanric comes off as very guarded and has an almost infallible control on his emotions. Snippets into his mind reveals his doubts and his moments of youth which makes him far more relatable. It may come off as a little fanfiction-like for some people, but heck, its official and I love the little moments I can get. I'd say the only criticism (and I'm rather unsure if I'm on the grounds to say so) I really have is that at the beginning there are moments of random jargon/words which I found rather odd. For an e.g. 'twoing' which I'm rather convinced is not an English word. It took me awhile it was the perhaps a street slang for the world's idea of 'dating'. There are a few other that come up in the first half but I began to not notice it towards the midpoint of the book so its not something that would spoil the experience. It would have been nice to have some introduction to the terms though. To conclude, this is a book for people who'd like a non stressful, fun and delightful read that does not require ridiculous amounts of brain power to compute. The story is simple and sweet enough to bring some smiles to the face, as long as you're not expecting it to totally change your world. I'll be sure to check out this author's other books for my lighter reading on the side. I picked this book up because I wanted something light to read after 'Angelfall' and it fit every bit of my criteria list. Something non-modern, straightforward fantasy story with likeable characters and a slow burn romance :) It was a fun journey throughout for me.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. There were aspects I enjoyed in these books. The characters were not unlikeable until the bonus short story. The parts of the book where Mel was hiding out from the bad King, etc were entertaining. I did like that Mel was not perfect. In particular of the two books Crown Duel was fun. Court Duel was a bit tedious at times. "The Trouble with Kings" told the same court ladies are like IT girls in school plotline. The thing that I didn't care for was the resolution happened off the page [that alone There were aspects I enjoyed in these books. The characters were not unlikeable until the bonus short story. The parts of the book where Mel was hiding out from the bad King, etc were entertaining. I did like that Mel was not perfect. In particular of the two books Crown Duel was fun. Court Duel was a bit tedious at times. "The Trouble with Kings" told the same court ladies are like IT girls in school plotline. The thing that I didn't care for was the resolution happened off the page [that alone ruined the book in my eyes] while in Crown Duel the hill people showed up and took care of it while she clung to her guy. It seemed to me the moral was politics are important. Mel felt such shame and self loathing when she was scorned over this in fact. But the book never showed how fan waving helped the kingdoms. They prevent war? How exactly did the bickering and back biting help her? The king the old courtiers were being held hostage to maybe. But why did Mel need to learn these tricks? She attended one meeting but left without participating and felt bad about herself. But it in the end it was the hill people who resolved the conflict. Neither war nor politics saved anything. Perhaps the real message was instead of a country charging into war the people ought to solve their own problems. Mel and Bran never once consulted the hill people about the Covenant being broken. That would've worked for me and made the ending feel less rushed.

  25. 4 out of 5

    First Second Books

    In which the under-educated, lacking-social-graces, and ill-informed heroine realizes that she is all of these things after becoming a heroine and then works to become better. Why doesn’t this happen in more books?

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sophie

    When I read this, I was in 8th grade and in bed sick and spent the entire day reading this book. It was also raining outside. I loved it! Reading it now I can definitely see the flaws but I am nostalgic.

  27. 5 out of 5

    colleen the convivial curmudgeon

    3.75 I either have the omnibus or the complete edition - depending on how you look at it, since, apparently, the story was originally written as one book, but the publisher released it as two. And the fact that the omnibus/complete edition has the same name as the first book of the duology makes it delightfully confusing to talk about! But, anyway... I wasn't all that impressed with the first part of the book. The blrub makes it sounds much more action-packed and interesting than it actually is, 3.75 I either have the omnibus or the complete edition - depending on how you look at it, since, apparently, the story was originally written as one book, but the publisher released it as two. And the fact that the omnibus/complete edition has the same name as the first book of the duology makes it delightfully confusing to talk about! But, anyway... I wasn't all that impressed with the first part of the book. The blrub makes it sounds much more action-packed and interesting than it actually is, since our heroine seems to spend half the time passed out, and the rest of the time being really stupid. Basically, she does something stupid which ends up getting her caught by the enemy. She is rescued/escapes, trudges around for awhile, does something stupid, gets caught against, gets rescued/escapes again... rinse, wash, repeat. She's also willful to a fault, and often (dis)misses things because she's unwilling to see anything for any perspective other than her own. Which brings me to the fact that, when the story starts, we're sort of dropped in shortly before war, have a lot of names and places thrown at us, but there's nothing to really connect you with these characters or even let us know that they're in the right. It's like we're meant to root for the protagonists because they're the protagonists, but we're not really given any real reason why we should. (This actually plays a bit of a role in how the story unfolds, but I had a really hard time following along at first because it was slow and boring, and I was like, "Meh, who are these people?") The ending did pick up some, though, and I was considering bumping my 2-stars up to, maybe, a 2.5. When I got to the end of Part One I considered putting the book down for awhile (and, actually, I'd considered just bailing entirely earlier on). But by the end of Part 2 I was really glad I kept on, because, wow, major difference. Mel is still stubborn to the point of foolishness, and even Bran irritated me more in this story than he did in the first... but Vindaric was great, and Nee was pretty cool, too. I think maybe I just favor the court politics and intrigue and romance. Or maybe it's because Mel does actually manage some character growth by the end (though it's a hard road to get there). But by the end of the story it went from being a book I'd almost bailed on to, perhaps, my second or third favorite book of the year. (Ok, the year is young, but, still...) So, yeah... Really slow beginning, frustrating and often boring first half, but really enjoyable second part - despite Mel's more annoying characteristics.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lilyan

    First review of 2014. I am not impressed. This did not work for me. It did not work for me for one simple reason: The first half of the book was weak. This is a Fantasy Y.A. with political intrigue elements to it and a light teenager-y romance. Mel, our heroine, is a countess of a district called Tlanth, which falls in Remalna city. Mel and her brother have never been to the capital and after their mother's death, their dad filled them with hatred and fear towards the noble and the courtiers. First review of 2014. I am not impressed. This did not work for me. It did not work for me for one simple reason: The first half of the book was weak. This is a Fantasy Y.A. with political intrigue elements to it and a light teenager-y romance. Mel, our heroine, is a countess of a district called Tlanth, which falls in Remalna city. Mel and her brother have never been to the capital and after their mother's death, their dad filled them with hatred and fear towards the noble and the courtiers. When their dad passes away, these country bumpkins decide to take on the bad king and seize the throne. A solid premise, yet the first half of the book did not do it justice. The events were mainly Mel running away, getting caught and hiding from the enemy. The characters and their interactions came off as shallow, especially Bran, Oria, Julen and the rest of Tlanth's residents. The only characters with some depth to them were Mel and Vidanric. A book should have a full cast of round characters and not only have 2 strong leads. Anyway, I didn't feel the first part and thus did not understand Mel's hatred towards Vidanric. I mean, I saw the reason, but the emotion did not translate to me, the reader. The second half was much more enjoyable; yet again, the rest of the characters fell flat. I especially disliked the ending, which showed us Mel a couple of years later, yet acting exactly the same as a teenager. No character growth what so ever. The ending also contained certain scene, retold from Vidanrics point of view. I would have enjoyed these had I cared about the book. Unfortunately, I was bored by the end and just saw them as a chore. I personally might have enjoyed it more had the book initially contained split POV's, and for those that think it would have eliminated the element of surprise, I challenge you to find anyone that didn't figure out the "twist" within the first part of the book. I didn't really care for this book. I wouldn't recommend it. I've given it 3 stars because the writing was okay, I enjoyed some of the second part and I'm a sucker for unrealized love hidden as resentment and bitterness.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Steph Su

    Oh how I adore feisty heroines embroiled in duplicitous, action-packed fantasy political intrigues and romance! I wish I had known about this book earlier, for I have a feeling it will be one that I return to again and again for that magical dose of adventure, feminism, and romance. Mel is my favorite kind of fantasy heroine: tough, resourceful, opinionated, and scared of being seen as vulnerable despite her deeply warm heart. I don’t even care that this type of female protagonist is a fantasy Oh how I adore feisty heroines embroiled in duplicitous, action-packed fantasy political intrigues and romance! I wish I had known about this book earlier, for I have a feeling it will be one that I return to again and again for that magical dose of adventure, feminism, and romance. Mel is my favorite kind of fantasy heroine: tough, resourceful, opinionated, and scared of being seen as vulnerable despite her deeply warm heart. I don’t even care that this type of female protagonist is a fantasy trope, because I just love ‘em. I loved reading about Mel’s struggles to avoid capture at the hands of Shevraeth and the king’s other men. And then I loved reading about Mel’s struggles to make herself a gentlewoman, worthy of the respect of the court. Mel is a protagonist worthy of Tamora Pierce’s creations. I love that this book’s pacing never drags, which is great because I just get so darn bored of the MC’s moody contemplations of anything and everything that has or hasn’t happened to her. I admit wholeheartedly that I adored the book’s romantic subplot and, yes, will probably reread this book many times for mostly that element. It reminds me of a sort of Elizabeth Bennet-Mr. Darcy relationship arc, and I will leave it at that appetite-whetting point. CROWN DUEL is a must-read if you love your Tamora Pierce and Gail Carson Levine. Maybe it doesn’t break new ground in lighthearted fantasy literature, but it fuels the fire that keeps my heart warm, fuzzy, and swooningly romantic. Sighhh. Now, back to rereading favorite bits…

  30. 5 out of 5

    Juushika

    I wanted to like the first book, but found it frustrating: the politics are simplistic, the plot predictable, and in the midst of that the protagonist--intentionally written as immature--seems dim rather than merely inexperienced. But I'm glad I stuck with it. The second book retains these faults, but introduces delightful social complexity which makes Meliara's character flaws less one-note; I enjoyed the daily details of her survival in the first book, but I adored her imperfect maneuverings I wanted to like the first book, but found it frustrating: the politics are simplistic, the plot predictable, and in the midst of that the protagonist--intentionally written as immature--seems dim rather than merely inexperienced. But I'm glad I stuck with it. The second book retains these faults, but introduces delightful social complexity which makes Meliara's character flaws less one-note; I enjoyed the daily details of her survival in the first book, but I adored her imperfect maneuverings through social niceties and court etiquette in the second. (The fan language! The fantastic, complex relationships between women!) The romance remains utterly predictable, but its epistolary nature is so endearing that, by the end, that's hard to hold against it. Crown Duel is a wildly uneven effort, raw and stumbling, but eventually transforming itself into a small delight: flawed, certainly, but lively and charming. (I didn't have the heart for the vignettes that append the e-book--do let me know if I'm overlooking something essential.)

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