Thursday, February 17, 2011

Review: Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith

Tags: middle grade, YA, fantasy, war, politics, romance


Meliara and her brother Branaric’s lives change forever the day they promise their count father on his deathbed to overthrow the king’s corrupt regime. Mel and Bran lead a ragtag bunch of loyal servants and friends against the king’s army, which throws Mel again and again across the path of the Marquis of Shevraeth, a stoic man hiding quite a few number of his secrets. When, however, the dust of war has settled, Mel discovers that she just might prefer running and hiding across the countryside to save her life better than putting on the façade of gracious noblewoman in the new king-to-be’s court.


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…

Similar Authors
Tamora Pierce
Gail Carson Levine
Megan Whalen Turner

Writing: 4/5
Characters: 5/5
Plot: 5/5

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 2 out of 5 - Ack. Someone might've taken creative license a bit too far... That's definitely not how I pictured Meliara at all, and is just overall very awkward, though it definitely shouts "young fantasy!" to me.

Penguin Firebird Fantasy / June 2002 (reprint) / Paperback / 480pp. / $8.99

Personal copy. Yay!


  1. I have wanted to read this for forever, since a few good blogging friends raved about it. PLUS it's super cheap on Kindle, and then this review confirms that want!

  2. I just read this for the first time myself, recently, and loved it, especially the romance - ahhh! I am glad you enjoyed it too!

    Now I have my eye on Shevraeth's prequel, A Stranger to Command, which fellow fans pointed me toward (

  3. i read crown duel back in high school and it stuck with me. it's still one of my favorite fantasy of all-time along with the alanna book #1 & #2 by tamora pierce. glad you liked it too :D

  4. Yes, yes, yes! I'm always happy to see this book get attention. Great review. Now I must reread...

  5. Ah, I'm so glad you enjoyed this one! I love this book so much. I first discovered it, hm, probably over ten years ago at this point, and I fell in love. I've reread it a bunch of times since then.

    If you like Mel, please try to get your hands on a copy of Vivian Vande Velde's The Conjurer Princess. Lylene reminds me a lot of Mel (and the romance is just as cute).

  6. I love Tamora Pierce, so I am definitely going to have to look into this one. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  7. I just recently read this one too and loved it to tiny little bits. So much fun watching Mel run around trying not to kill herself. Wonderful review!

  8. Yay, so glad you loved it! This book is one of my favorites and I keep recommending it to anyone who'd listen because it deserves more attention. I believe the ebook version in Smashwords has some scenes from Vidanric's point of view. :) Those used to be available on Sherwood Smith website but not anymore.

  9. Loved this story - It was my first read by her. I hand it to a student at least once every other week. Those who check it out always like it too.

  10. YOU REVIEWED THIS BOOK! I <3 you hardcore! I don't know how I missed this review before! And I see you read the paperback version with the extra short story at the end. Good. :) But did you know there is also another short story about ____ and ____'s children in the future? It is in an anthology called Firebirds. A great anthology of YA fantasy all around, in my opinion. Just thought you'd like to know. :)


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