Crown Duel by author Sherwood Smith is actually two books in one, Crown Duel + Court Duel. It is listed as YA and Fantasy Fiction.
I did not complete the whole book but did finish Crown Duel. I did not start reading Court Duel. I’ve read some other reviews that say Court Duel is better than Crown Duel. Perhaps I will read it one day.
Some reviewers have complemented author Smith’s world building. I would say that was actually the part of the book that turned me off the most. I never had a handle on the world in this book. Some said this was the fictional land of ‘Sartorias-deles’ but I don’t remember even reading that word, and if I did, it must have been mentioned once or twice at most.
Remalna is part of this world, as is Tlanth, and the mysterious hill folk. There is a Marquis of Shevaeth whose name apparently is Shevaeth? It was kind of confusing when you try to understand this world.
In this world there lives unnamed hill folk who possess magic and are super protective of the trees. To prevent a war with these hill folk, a Covenant is created, and the people of Remalna don’t cut down any trees. Mysterious magicians appear every year and handed to the people Fire Sticks which are lit and extinguished by a spell, Words of Power. We never have any idea if these magicians are hill folk, or if they possess supernatural powers so strong that the people of Remalna felt it necessary to forge a Covenant.
The actual story centers on young Meliara, who I read somewhere else, not in the book, is supposed to be 17. She is with her brother, Branaric, when their father dies. Their father asserts that they, his children, are half Calahanras (no idea what that means) through their mother, last of a fine house that once ruled Remalna. From his death bed, he tells them that they must fight King Galdran, protect Tlanth and the covenant. He tells them to attack.
Wow. Okay. The story is really quite disjointed because these two are young, Branaric apparently 21, although I don’t remember reading that in the book either. Neither of these two seem to possess any real knowledge of warfare, no real training, wholly unprepared to wage a campaign against anyone.
As it turns out, their little world is ill-prepared to rise against a formidable power. A seventy year old man, Khesot, begins training the commoners.
Apparently, a spy named Azmus, living in the capital, has proof that the King plans to break the Covenant with the hill folk, cut down trees, and sell them to neighboring kingdoms. Taxes are oppressive. These people don’t seem to possess enough resources or leadership to do anything, and yet, off to war they go.
I was still left wondering why this little group of people felt it was necessary for them to war for the hill folk since there is no contact with the hill folk other than the magicians and their Fire Sticks once a year. Aren’t the hill folk more equipped to handle their own business than these people? I don’t know.
Anyway, after Meliara, too small to actually fight in battle, leads several guerrilla raids on their enemies, causing minor flooding, dropping itchwort into their belongings, Meliara goes and gets herself caught.
She spends time in prison, as well as being carted off to the capital. Eventually, with the help of someone else, (I won’t say who), she escapes and tries to work her way back to her brother and her people.
I didn’t like that every time she emerged from the wild, to a town or inn, it happened to be at the same time one of her nemesis, one of the adversaries specifically searching for her, happened to be there.
So why three stars?
The actual writing. The author is a good writer. It is the only reason I finished the first book (first half) of this tale. I enjoyed the way the author described scenes and the main character, Meliara. There were a lot of strengths here.
This is a YA book, and I tried to see it through the eyes of a YA reader, but there were too many flaws with the purposes and motivations as well as the world building to overlook. I believe this was the authors first book. To write an epic-type tale with a unique world is daunting. It was a good effort but I just couldn’t get to the second book, although I may in the future.
Allen M Werner is the author of the epic fantasy series, The Crystal Crux.
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