Court Duel by Sherwood Smith. ★★★
Court Duel is the sequel to Crown Duel. The two books were originally written as the same story but split in two by the publisher. That being so, you really should read Crown Duel before picking up a copy of Court Duel.
In Court Duel, Mel stays at court, which she has always disdained and hated due to the things her mother said about it. However, now she has to learn to function within court society. She also wants to discover who would be the best king, and she soon finds that she has a secret admirer.
As you can probably tell from that brief description, Court Duel has a very different feel from it’s predecessor. It’s slower paced, more focused on court intrigue than the frantic escape attempts. I’d hoped that the change in tone would get me to like this book more than Crown Duel. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I didn’t dislike Court Duel, but I remain apathetic towards this duology.
I didn’t find the story line of Court Duel interesting at all. It’s abundantly obvious that Shevraeth will be a good king, and there’s never any real conflict on that front. When things finally do happen, it feels like everything’s crammed in at the end.
It was also very obvious who Mel’s secret admirer is, although she’s clueless of course. Still, I’m wondering if this book’s appeal was supposed to lie in the romance? I’m rarely interested in that sort of story, so it’d be no surprise that this wasn’t the book for me. At least the romance wasn’t angsty or annoying. I just didn’t care much about it.
On the bright side, I do think the world got a bit more fleshed out. There were little cultural details like how kneeling at low tables was more common than sitting in chairs at high ones. I’ve also noticed that the culture seems pretty gender egalitarian, with women being able to serve in the army or rule without any questions being asked.
Court Duel was also very readable, which is the main thing it has going for it. Still, I don’t think this is a series I’ll ever be recommending or planning on coming back to.