Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith. ★★★
Crown Duel is the first book in a YA duology that is reminiscent of Sharon Shinn. The story practically zips along and starts from the first few pages, when the heroine, Mel, and her brother swear to their dying father that they will fight the corrupt king. They end up fighting a guerrilla war against the army invading their territory, but then Mel gets captured and is scheduled for execution. Crown Duel is mostly the story of her trying to escape.
I think the word that best describes Mel is “spirited.” She’s brave, headstrong, and very certain in her beliefs. She can also be reckless and make rash decisions. However she does have some self awareness and growth over the book and it’s sequel (Court Duel), which is probably the most interesting thing about her.
Crown Duel is a very low magic fantasy book. There’s a few small magical artifacts, none very important, implied to be bought from foreign wizards. The main magic is the presence of the Hill People, a species who lives in the wooded hills who are reminiscent of elves. While I didn’t have any problems with Crown Duel being low on magic, I felt that the world in general was more sketched out than fully fleshed out. Part of this is due to most of the book being Mel rushing about trying to escape – it’s hard to get a feel for things when you never stay in one place! The more sedate sequel did manage to make the world feel a bit more developed.
There was nothing that I hated about Crown Duel, but there was nothing I loved about it either. It was an okay way to pass some time, but it doesn’t have a whole lot of complexities. In short, there’s nothing that would ever want to make me return to the story. If I hadn’t bought the sequel as part of a bound edition with this first book, I would never have continued on to it.