Countess Meliara and her brother Branaric promise their father on his death bed that they will continue to fight, even war, against the king of their lands who is overtaxing the country into poverty and who is also about to break the sacred covenant with the magic Hill Folk that has allowed both humans and Hill Folk to live prosperously for years. Mel and Bran gather a rag-tag group of soldiers, mainly consisting of loyal friends and servants, who are willing to fight for freedom from the king. Mel and Bran believe that they are the only ones in the vast kingdom to take up the cause against the king. When Mel decides to make a risky move to gather information from the enemy, she finds her foot in a trap and herself a captive of the Marquis of Shevraeth. Mel’s capture leads to all kinds of trouble, almost executions, possible torture, and a chase across the country side. It also reveals that Mel and Bran may not be the only ones looking to depose the king. Crown Duel chronicles the fight to get the current king out of power and Court Duel deals with the aftermath of that fight, which takes place not on the battle field but in the rich capital city and in court.
Reaction: I liked these books, breezing through both, but I found them flawed. My biggest problem was with Meliara. I found her a bit immature and headstrong to the point of detriment. She forms ideas, specifically of the Marquis of Shevraeth, and refuses to let go of them. She is prickly and bitter towards him and when, in Court Duel, he finally asks her why she acts the way she does towards him she answers him truthfully, which is she doesn’t know. She really has no explanation. She certainly has reasons to mistrust him at first but it is obvious to everyone going along with her story that he is no real bad guy and he proves it time and time again yet she won’t give him a break. I, for one, loved him. He is cool and collected but he also has a great sense of humor, making Mel laugh when she was nervous and challenging her to a horse race he knew she would enjoy. I mean, he was a bit aloof at times, but it was more of a reserved nature and a direct reaction to growing up at court where real feelings could not be shown. I also got a bit annoyed at Branaric in the second book. In the first book, he and Mel were this team and he was devoted to her. In the second, he becomes engaged and suddenly Mel and Bran’s home is just his home and he forgets her Name Day, like a birthday, which he had promised her the year before would be extra special since it had fallen during war and they hadn’t been able to properly celebrate. Overall, these are really enjoyable fantasy reads with strong romantic elements. I just wish that I had like Mel a bit more, though I am certainly in the minority when you check out the Amazon reviews. :)
I recommend: If this series sounds interesting to you and you haven’t read Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword, read it. It’s one of my all-time favorites with an equally strong but much more level-headed and mature female main character and an equally handsome and enigmatic male counterpart. Love it!