Crown Duel by Sherwood SmithBattle 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 ememies 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…

This edition of Crown Duel was originally published as two separate books, Crown Duel and Court Duel, although author Sherwood Smith had always though of them as one story.  A additional short story is included at the end.

I found Meliara to be a great character.  She is prickly, stubborn, brave and loyal and makes mistakes that could have terrible consequences.  But she is intelligent and smart, and when she realises just how ignorant she is, she takes steps to educate herself.  Part of her personality is that she cares about how people see her, which makes her very self-defensive.  I could really relate to that!

In the second half of Crown Duel, I really liked that Mel recognised her ignorance of how to behave at Court,  faced her fear of ridicule and went to the Court because she felt it was the right thing to do.  This second part of the book was the best in my opinion, I enjoyed seeing Mel’s personal growth and her interactions with people whose motives she could not discern.  I loved how she grew more confident in how to behave at Court, but did not copy others, instead approaching her problems and solving them in a forthright and unusual manner,  That manner was entirely consistent with her personality and not just an action imposed by the author to make Mel be an unusual character.

Crown Duel is a thoroughly enjoyable character driven YA* fantasy.  I found it on Pollyanna’s Booklist, and it is well worth reading.

* YA is Young Adult – a genre where some of the best fantasy is being published these days.

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