Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith
I took note of Crown Duel by Sharwood Smith from Chachic of Chachic's Book Nook. Seeing that she loves fantasy as much as I do, I couldn't pass this one up.
Synopsis from Wikipedia:
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, which threatens the very people they are trying to protect. But war is simple compared to what follows, in peacetime. Meliara is summoned to live at the royal palace, where 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 wits and words and secret alliances.
In war, at least, she knew in whom she could trust. Now she can trust no one.
Meliara is unlike any other female character that I've come across. She is not much of a swordsman or a skillful fighter (think Katsa of Graceling), or an excellent marksman either (think Katniss of Hunger Games). She's no Hermione Granger either for she has not had the chance to learn to write and spell properly or be acquainted with books as what most that filled her mother's library were burned. But what she lacks in skill or knowledge, she more than makes up for in heart and wit. She is courageous and high-principled. She loves and cares for her people. She is more than willing to learn and accept her weaknesses and mistakes (albeit gradually).
Although one might see Meliara as a damsel in distress in most of the situations that she's involved in as she required saving more often than not. But what makes her different from your stereotypical maiden is that she is far from delicate and you can definitely see her bravery and daring as she tries to get herself out of the tight and dangerous situations by herself. Assistance was merely given (and not asked) to her by some in view of the circumstances she was in.
One thing that I wasn't quite fond of is the character Branaric, Meliara's brother. He reminds me of an overly perky sales person in a movie I once watched, the one with a permanent smile and a sing-song voice. I understand how being cheerful is hardly of any damage and perhaps might even help lighten the mood during an impending war but I'm Ms. Debbie Downer. So technically it has nothing to do with the character, it's just me and my gloom cloud.
I liked romantic subplot and the twists and turns of the story. I didn't know who to trust and who betrayed whom. There's tension and mixed feelings. All the escaping and running away plus the political intrigue will keep you turning the pages. Overall, a very engaging fantasy read!