Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book
Rate this book
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!

471 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published March 1, 1997

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Sherwood Smith

167 books37.5k followers
I am a writer,( Patreon here) but I'm on Goodreads to talk about books, as I've been a passionate reader as long as I've been a writer--since early childhood.

I'm not going to rate books--there are too many variables. I'd rather talk about the reading experience. My 'reviews' of my books are confined to the writing process.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
12,215 (48%)
4 stars
7,251 (28%)
3 stars
4,118 (16%)
2 stars
1,010 (4%)
1 star
430 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,102 reviews
Profile Image for Sherwood Smith.
Author 167 books37.5k followers
June 4, 2009
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.
Profile Image for Krystle.
893 reviews337 followers
April 15, 2011
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.

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!
Profile Image for Laura.
943 reviews128 followers
May 29, 2008
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.
Profile Image for Sherwood Smith.
Author 167 books37.5k followers
March 18, 2015
Special edition: includes outtakes, and the edited version of Crown Duel that hereto only appeared in the e-book format.
Profile Image for Jacob Proffitt.
2,937 reviews1,544 followers
March 28, 2014
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.
Profile Image for Hallie.
954 reviews124 followers
March 26, 2014
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.
Profile Image for Valerie.
249 reviews74 followers
August 26, 2016
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.
Profile Image for Ellen.
491 reviews
April 13, 2009
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.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Melissa McShane.
Author 60 books744 followers
August 26, 2016
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.
Profile Image for R.J..
Author 30 books1,415 followers
April 21, 2015
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...
Profile Image for Branwen Sedai *of the Brown Ajah*.
983 reviews168 followers
January 22, 2015
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! :)
Profile Image for Amy.
2,578 reviews400 followers
September 15, 2021
2021 Review
I have FEELINGS and I don't know how to articulate them.

Mostly reading this book brought 17-year-old Amy to the forefront and she really doesn't know what to do with 28-year-old Amy. Or maybe it is that 28-year-old Amy doesn't know what to do with her younger self. This book feels like so much something I would adore when I was younger but I ONLY GAVE IT 3 STARS.

And, IDK, maybe that's the right rating?

Crown Duel combines two novels: Crown Duel and Court Duel. You need Crown Duel to appreciate Court Duel, however, I would not call them equal in quality.

Crown Duel feels very middle school. It gives some character growth and gets the heroine from point A to point B but I wouldn't say it stood out in any way. I can see younger readers enjoying and nostalgia taking over. But the drama centers on one very immature countess managing to escape the clutches of a big, bad warlord and spending the rest of the book wandering around wet, injured, and hungry. The actual climax is shockingly short.

The sequel, Court Duel, on the other hand, provides delightful court drama. It contains wonderful world building, engaging characters, and another shockingly short climax. We finally get romance and our whiny countess grows up (some.) It is playful and a tad more mature than the first book, but not because of the content so much as the more subtle danger. (Who needs a villainous king breathing threats down your back when you can have smiling courtiers who will stab you in the back?) It enjoyed it reading as an adult and not with any sense that I needed to lower my expectations. (Though how I would love a more adult version of this!)

Complicating my feelings towards this duology is my true respect and delight with Sherwood Smith as an author. She clearly loves the same authors I love. Seeped in Heyer and Stewart as I am, I see it in her writing because (thanks to Goodreads!) I know they are influences on her. And how can I not love an author who shares my favorite books?

I just never seem to love her books as much as I expect I will.

But I think when the time comes I'm still going to give my niece a copy of this one. It is good fantasy.

2011 Review
Crown Duel, by Sherwood Smith, was an interesting book recommended to me as "a fun combination of Lord of the Rings meets the best of Austen without overdoing it".
This book is actually a combination of two books, "Crown Duel" and its sequel, "Court Duel".
Though a countess, Meliara has grown up running barefoot in the hills, vaguely supervised by her aging Father and elder brother. Taxed into despair, threatened by the evil king who rules, Meliara's Father has been plotting a rebellion but dies before it can be accomplished. On his death bed, he makes his two kids swear to defend their people and rid the kingdom of the greedy, evil king. And so Meliara and her brother, Branaric, go to war. But war is not an easy thing, and with the arrival of the new general Shevraeth, things just got a whole lot worse. The sequel involves Meliara's summons to court, where she must learn to identify who are allies and who are enemies, and how to make war with words and popularity. Kidnapping, escape, courage, and sword fighting are just a few of the weaving plot lines and themes of these books
Meliara is a likeable character, though she doesn't seem to go through much character change in the book. She is almost obnoxiously perfect, even with her imperfections (they rather "add to her charms" instead of making her realistic) but she is better in "Court Duel", where her flaws actually add to the story.
Some of the things I liked:
She is a stubborn character, willing to try, even if that means losing. Also, unlike many fantasy novels, she doesn't suddenly become an expert in, say, sword fighting, after an unlikely short amount of time. She doesn't become a "superwoman" with all these sudden talents. Instead, it is her very courage and knack for danger that leads her from one problem to the next, with her firey temper and quick tongue making half the problems in the first place. No matter what she gains, whether it be friends or influence , she doesn't let it go to her head, but seems to view it with the maximum 'easy gained, easy lost!' She doesn't simper or become enamored with a guy and lose all her brains and courage (I absolutely HATE it when that happens in these sort of books - i.e. Graceling) and she handles court life with enough mistakes, but also willingness to get back up again, that I was impressed. She wasn't irritating.
I was surprised to find I even liked Meliara's complete lack of diplomacy. Her face reveals whatever she is thinking, if she doesn't just come out and say it. Many times when you read fantasy novels, you expect the heroine to have some natural ability that you don't have and that makes her on some grand level...but I guess that is simply what makes Meliara so interesting. The very flaws that don't get addressed in book one, and maybe faintly addressed in book two, are what make her so likable and maybe even believable. Her stubbornness and quick judgments I could honestly find myself relating too, something that added to the story a great deal.
Now, I didn't love everything about Meliara. In fact, there were two or three scenes involving her that pretty much gave this a three star rating, but to explain them would reveal spoilers, so I will adress that in the spoiler at the bottom.

Other characters in the book tend to be good and interesting, but the reader doesn't get to know them to well, as the story is told from Meliara's point of view.
Being a bit of a romantic (yes Hope, you may laugh at that), I would have appreciated a few more glimpses into a certain young man's point of view ;)
The one thing that drove me crazy about this book, even while it amused me, were the names! Oi! I could almost believe Smith went to her local drug store to find them! For example, Vidanric. Doesn't that sound like a medicine that would give you a whole host of side effects? Or Savona. (Anyone else thinking salmonella?) Even Meliara! (reminds me of malaria...) Or her brother Branaric (which, if you pronounce it properly, sounds like another drug, and, if you read quickly like I do, looks exactly like Brainiac O.O)

Aside from the queer names, the thought that struck me repeatedly was "I wish I had read this book four years ago". I would have loved it. While I enjoyed it now, my reading is a bit old for it. I've read to much fantasy and to many books in general.

Two or three more thoughts and I promise to finally shut up, this is getting to be a rather long review.
The plot:
Was pretty good. I appreciated the beautifully constructed fantasy world, which was well thought out, and uniquely original. While I absolutely hate her as an author, I have to agree with what Tamora Pierce is quoted as saying on the back, "A realm of trouble, a spirited female hero with magic to surround her, mystery, romance, an enigmatic marquis, court etiquette and secret messages - this is the stuff of dreams." If it weren't for a few things, this book came close to getting four stars.
A bit more maturing and I would even say five.
Oh, and I should add, this book kept me guessing. I didn’t see lots of the plot twists and turns, which impressed me.
I couldn't for the life of me figure out why someone would recommend this book to me based off my love of Heyer (actually, it wasn't, but I didn't realize that till an hour ago), until I was struck by a few plot similarities between "Court Duel" and "Arabella". If you likeArabella and fantasy, you'd probably enjoy this book.
The writing:
I don't actually have too much to say. Half way through I was dreading that the book would end, because I really was enjoying it, but that had more to do with the plot then writing. Someone who cared more might be able to point out something wrong with it, but I simply enjoyed the writing for what it was. Nothing distracted me or stood out as remarkable.
And finally, would I recommend it?
After all the praise I just heaped on the book, you'd think the answer would be a resounding "Yes!" But...it isn't. More like a "mmm, sure?" It is a good book, though not for everyone. Generally clean, a good heroine, an interesting plot, I certainly want to read more by Smith, my answer is yes and no. I do not recommend it enthusiastically, but neither do I strongly suggest passing it by. You have to take it for what it is, with plenty of flaws, on the verge (but missing) what might have become a five star mark. It is thick, but I love thick books and didn't want it to end (up until the end, but I'll rant about that in my spoiler)
So there you have it. Hopefully that obnoxiously long review told you something of interest about this book.

Profile Image for Amanda.
19 reviews
September 22, 2011
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.

Profile Image for Chachic.
586 reviews204 followers
February 8, 2023
February 2023 reread, still my favorite Sherwood Smith book!

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.
Profile Image for cc.
425 reviews165 followers
June 23, 2016
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

Profile Image for kris.
937 reviews186 followers
August 17, 2019
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.

Profile Image for Wealhtheow.
2,431 reviews543 followers
March 31, 2008
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.
Profile Image for Allison.
550 reviews568 followers
April 11, 2017
(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.
August 18, 2016
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.
Profile Image for Gail Carriger.
Author 64 books14.9k followers
December 1, 2013
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.
183 reviews
March 9, 2015
I bought this book because the author apparently used to frequent Critters.org, a great critique site for writers of SFF, and horror. I wanted to see the skills of the biggest name it produced.

Alas, I don't think much of Smith's skills.

First off, I only read Crown Duel, the first half of this book, and skimmed through Court Duel because I didn't want to waste any more of my time reading this thing. If it didn't have very short chapters I likely would have given it up much earlier. As such, I'm not recommending you read it and will joyfully sprinkle this review with spoilers.

Smith offers up promises that are not delivered. The protagonist is deeply irritating and non-sensical. The plot is thin on the ground. The whole thing is offensive to women. The writing is pretty poor too.

Promises first. This is supposed to be a fantasy novel about a war. The only fantasy elements were the Hill Folk, briefly described in the first chapter, and then infrequently mentioned. They provide the pretext of the book, granted--years ago in exchange for the humans not burning down the trees, the Hill Folk provide them with magic fire sticks. This agreement is known as the Covenant, and when the current king plans to renege on it, the protagonist's province goes to war.

The Hill Folk only actually turn up in this story in a deus ex machina right at the end. The war is nothing but a bookend. What Smith should have promised was an episodic story in which pretty much nothing of importance happens until right at the end.

Meliara is a spunky teenage girl, allegedly, but instead she comes off as an absolute moron. She was only taught to read a year prior to the story beginning, after a childhood of running rampant with the local peasant kids. In that year she not only learns to read and write, she teaches herself maths and figures out how to solve the financial problems of the province. At the age of 16?ish. Having barely any formal education. Despite this lack of education, Meliara speaks far more cleverly than everyone else in her province, including her brother who has been reading for years and yet sounds like a yokel. This pseudo-intelligence does not manifest in her actions.

She does things that she admits freely to herself are stupid, and has an angry streak wide enough that she risks the lives of her people multiple times. She trusts herself implicitly, despite knowing that she makes dumb mistakes all the time. She loves her brother greatly, but won't listen to a word he says. This is incredibly frustrating. People that lacking in self-awareness may exist, but they do not make good protagonists (at least not in this book).

She's also one of those deeply annoying characters who think they're totally ugly even though everyone around them is telling her she's such a cutie, but she just can't believe them, they're obviously all lying. All of them.

The plot sounded promising ... small province faces off against the powerful and slightly evil king even though they're just a plucky band of commonfolk. Not the most original idea, perhaps, but could be fun.

The actual plot is ... maybe two chapters of war at the start? Heavily glossed over, and the Mel gets caught by the opposing side, escapes and spends basically the entire rest of the book wandering around trying not to get caught. The main person pursuing her is a Marquis who is Totes Hawt but clearly a lying snivelly idiot ... but only to Mel. To the reader it's blatantly obvious that Mel is totally misunderstanding everything this guy is saying and after a few hilarious mishaps they're definitely going to end up together. #prideandprejudice This is an acceptable subplot, if an uninspired one, but the fact that Mel ignores/is too stupid to see all the evidence that Totes Hawt is smart and trying to help, and irrationally hates this guy makes it extremely insulting to women. Like women are too moronic to see what's right in front of our faces and it has to be gently pointed out to us, otherwise we'll just listen to half a sentence before throwing things and getting pissy. Of course Mel is a spunky young girl so she can't be a sexist portrayal, right???? No.

The "war" ends in a couple of brief chapters at the end when Mel goes off to attack a castle belonging to Totes Hawt, who has clearly stated how much of an ally he is multiple times, because she just doesn't believe him. She attacks the castle with a handful of poorly-trained commoners, who are all super happy to die for her because she's so great. There's some more meandering plotless nonsense before Totes Hawt, Mel, and Mel's brother all contract colds, don chain mail, and then go to fight the Evil K‌ing. The colds are focused on quite a lot, yet add nothing to the plot. Maybe it was supposed to be quirky? I don't know.

Anyway, in the final battle (the only battle we see in this war), the Evil King spots Mel (who is drowned in chainmail and a helmet) and gets angry because she escaped him for so long and so naturally breaks formation and goes on a mad rampage to kill the teenage girl. Even though he's faced with fully grown men who know how to fight and want to take his crown, the king would rather go for some petty revenge. He conks Mel on the head, but of course she's later informed that Totes Hawt came to her rescue and killed the king immediately afterwards. Raise your hand if you saw that coming? All of you? Ok.

Crown Duel over, Court Duel has Mel heading off to court where Totes Hawt guy is now headed to be king because obviously. Judging from my skimming they get in a letter-driven courtship where he knows who she is, but she doesn't know it's him, which isn't at all massively creepy or anything. It looks like there's some poorly-thought-out war threatened, which is over in like two chapters (sound familiar?) and then smoochy times commence between Mel and Totes Hawt.

This particular collection is topped off with a brief short story in which Mel apparently starts to learn magic, but for some reason gets it into her head that Totes Hawt doesn't want her to learn, so she decides to burn her books. Because of course that's the smart thing to do. And then Totes Hawt has to patiently explain the hugely obvious facts to her because she just can't figure it out herself, being a silly-minded woman desperate to keep her romance alive by remaining ignorant. Please excuse me while I vomit.

The nuts and bolts of the writing is pretty average. It wasn't difficult to read, but a lot of the dialogue just seemed naff. Like Smith was trying to put in cute colloquialisms to thrust us into the setting further. Smith doesn't pull this off, because we hardly ever see it. Mel's brother and friends are about the only ones who do it, and we don't see them throughout the whole of the middle of the book. It isn't frequent enough to gain context, and Mel doesn't use them herself for no apparant reason.

Analysing this book for this review has actually made me dislike it more, which is pretty impressive. I suggest you steer clear.
Profile Image for Valerie.
285 reviews3 followers
July 23, 2009
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.
Profile Image for Alissa.
613 reviews85 followers
June 26, 2016
“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.”
Profile Image for Jia Ling Pan.
52 reviews21 followers
January 11, 2012
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.
Profile Image for Lauren.
143 reviews19 followers
November 3, 2016
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.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jenna.
Author 9 books326 followers
March 12, 2021
This young adult fantasy novel was first published when I was in middle school and -- if the other Goodreads reviews and social-media effusions can be taken as evidence -- it seems to have become a fiercely loved cult classic among women fantasy readers my age, yet I somehow hadn't heard of it or its author until now. It appears I've been missing out, for Crown Duel is tremendous fun: battles, intrigues, machinations, betrayals, a compelling first-person female narrator, an emotionally authentic coming-of-age arc, and, best of all, an utterly enchanting Shop Around the Corner-inflected subplot -- one of the best uses of that exquisitely delightful trope that I've seen in a long time. In my previous Goodreads reviews, I've pointed out how two of my other all-time fantasy favorites, Howl's Moving Castle and Uprooted, are thematic descendants of Jane Eyre, so I was interested to see other Goodreads reviewers trace a lineage from Crown Duel back to Pride and Prejudice, making me wonder again whether I'm drawn to stories based on those archetypes simply because of early exposure to them or because maybe there are only a finite number of great story archetypes around (?).

Anyway, this is generally one of the most enjoyable novels of its genre that I've ever come across, and if I had a teenage sister or cousin, I would jump to put this book in their hands right now.
Profile Image for First Second Books.
560 reviews548 followers
August 6, 2012
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?
Profile Image for Rachel Neumeier.
Author 45 books484 followers
September 3, 2013
Okay, for me, Meliara, the protagonist of the duology, though a good protagonist, initially annoyed me because she is emotional, hot-headed, naïve, and ignorant about the world. A kid reading this book would probably like Mel better than I did, because her intentions are good. But she gets caught by the bad guys fairly early on and she totally depends on luck and the machinations of the most important secondary character, Shevraeth, to survive and escape.

What becomes clear as the duology goes on is that Sherwood Smith knows perfectly well that Mel is naïve and ignorant – because Mel herself realizes this (eventually) and takes steps to learn about the world. And because though she totally misjudges Shevraeth in the beginning, she eventually figures that out and tries hard to correct her judgment. With, for a long time, mixed success.

What absolutely makes this duology is Shevraeth. Here Smith has taken the unusual choice of creating a wonderful, interesting (and uber-competent) character and never, ever showing us his point of view. We are strictly in Mel’s pov throughout, and we can clearly see Shevraeth’s quality long before Mel can. This structure reminds me of the way Dorothy Dunnett wrote the Lymond Chronicles and also her murder mysteries, separating the pov character from the true protagonist – because in a lot of ways Shevraeth is the protagonist. Every single reader is going to fall in love with him. I sure did.

And even though a lot more adventure / narrow escapes / wild rides and so forth take place in the first book? I thought the first book was pretty good, but loved the second. The second is all about Mel learning to navigate the world of the court, and about sorting out the relationship between her and Shevraeth, and though there is one wild ride and one scary confrontation, basically it is a much quieter and slower-paced book. But I loved Mel, who by the start of the second book has developed into a character I liked much better – and of course I loved watching her relationship with Shevraeth work itself out, because hey, Shevraeth, right?

Let me add here that if you love Crown Duel / Court Duel, and Shevraeth, then you definitely owe it to yourself to read Andrea Höst’s Touchstone Trilogy. Shevraeth reminds me VERY STRONGLY of Kaoren Ruuel, the male lead of the Touchstone story. I would say that Höst’s trilogy is more sophisticated and aimed at a somewhat older reader, and you will need to keep in mind that the true romance doesn’t really kick off till partway through the second book. But I confidently predict that any reader who loves Shevraeth will love Ruuel.

The other story that just leaps instantly to mind in this context is one you will unfortunately have a lot more trouble finding: An Alien Music by Annabel and Edgar Johnson. I have a copy, because I loved it as a kid when I read it as a library book, and read it over and over. As an adult, I tracked down a copy – this was before Amazon – and paid $40 for it, so that shows you how much I wanted it. There is no ebook edition, unfortunately, and I see that used copies are still pretty high on Amazon. But again, if you loved Crown Duel / Court Duel, I can virtually promise you will love An Alien Music.

If you normally read fantasy and not SF, do NOT let the SF trappings put you off either the Touchstone Trilogy or An Alien Music, or you will truly be missing out.
Profile Image for Steph Su.
948 reviews452 followers
September 19, 2012
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…
Profile Image for Sophie.
458 reviews187 followers
November 27, 2017
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.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,102 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.