Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith is one of those books that has been sitting on my shelves unread for years. I’m glad I finally picked it up! I always really enjoy reading older young adult fantasy, and this one was no exception. While the world building left a lot to be desired, I fell completely in love with the characters. They kept me glued to the pages.
Meliara and her brother Bran promised their father on his deathbed that they would save their kingdom from the evil King currently in power. As they do their best to keep their word, chaos erupts. From enemies to not-so-enemies to hostages to court intrigue – the complications keep the pages turning. The plot is extremely strong and engaging.
Now, besides the god-awful cover, the main issue I have with Crown Duel is the world building. Namely: the lack of. From the first page to the conclusion, there are numerous references to the Hill Folk. Who are they? What are they? Where do their allegiances lie? How do they think? All things we don’t find out (at least not to my satisfaction). They end up being pretty vital to how things turn out, but we never learn anything about them! Not okay, especially when one of the main things that makes or breaks a fantasy novel is the world building.
Also present are references to magic (like communication stones). Yet nothing ever develops about the origins of magic or how things work/how they are made. Huge disappointment there. I think Sherwood Smith is a pretty established fantasy author, so I was really surprised by how lacking I found all this.
The book’s major strength is the characters. Meliara is awesome! She is a stubborn, prickly piece of work, actually – but that is why I loved her. She got on my nerves more than once…the fact that she was imperfect made my day. Of course, she is also strong, intelligent and fiercely loyal. I don’t take my heroines any other way. Her complex personality made me love her very early on, and kept me dying to see how her story would turn out.
Speaking of complex: the Marquis of Shevraeth. The less said about him by me the better (you need to meet him for yourself!), but he can definitely be my (newest) book boyfriend. I absolutely love that man. Seriously – read the book just so we can talk about him.
So, while the book is definitely not perfect, it is absolutely worth reading. I loved the characters and getting to see their story! Also, bonus: since this is actually an omnibus of two shorter books put together, there is also an extra short story at the end after the HEA. I love getting glimpses like that into my characters’ lives!