The Literary Horizon: Crown Duel, The Stepsister Scheme

As I’m reading Banewreaker, I’m feeling the warm, gooey feeling of nostalgia pleasantly washing over me–it’s scratching my itch for classic epic fantasy something hard. And almost in answer, another sort of nostalgia has taken over–young adult fantasy novels about young women taking names instead of staying at home. So today, we’re looking at two titles that promise to fill that void in my life.

Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith

A girl in Remalna traditionally spends her Flower Day being feted, dancing with friends, and celebrating her passage to womanhood. Countess Meliara spends hers on the front lines of a war. She and her brother promised their dying father to free Remalna from the oppressive rule of Greedy Galdran and to preserve the vital Covenant with Remalna’s aloof, unhuman Hill People. Courageous, stubborn Meliara, honorable and sharp-tongued, is determined to win or die fighting.

via the author’s website

Crown Duel is a title that came to me from fandom, which, I think, is a step up from taking up a book sight unseen–it’s usually recommended anonymously by someone decrying the lack of attention a certain book is getting. Well, far be it from me to turn it down, especially with the promise of a prickly heroine in the air.

Holly at The Book Harbinger enjoyed it, especially the evolution of Mel from a character she was put off by to an elegant courtly lady who was still thoroughly herself. (To be fair, Holly reviewed both Crown Duel and Court Duel.) Leila at Bookshelves of Doom also enjoyed it, although she thought Mel could be obtuse at times. Mel sounds like a polarizing character; I can’t wait to meet her.

Crown Duel was published April 1, 1997.

The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines

Cinderella–whose real name is Danielle Whiteshore (nee Danielle de Glas)–does marry Prince Armand.  And if you can ignore the pigeon incident, their wedding is a dream come true.

But not long after the “happily ever after,” Danielle is attacked by her stepsister Charlotte, who suddenly has all sorts of magic to call upon.  And though Talia–otherwise known as Sleeping Beauty–comes to the rescue (she’s a martial arts master, and all those fairy blessings make her almost unbeatable), Charlotte gets away.

That’s when Danielle discovers a number of disturbing facts: Armand has been kidnapped and taken to the realm of the Fairies; Danielle is pregnant with his child; and the Queen has her own very secret service that consists of Talia and Snow (White, of course).  Snow is an expert at mirror magic and heavy duty flirting.

Can the three princesses track down Armand and extract both the prince and themselves from the clutches of some of fantasyland’s most nefarious villains?

via the author’s website

I’ve seen this series kicking around for a while, but it was only when I heard that one installment in this series deals with more serious issues concerning the mistreatment of women that I perked up. It’s an arresting cover (with Cinderella’s costume apparently coming straight out of the Fire Emblem wardrobe department), although the flippant framing of these series of “Charlie’s Angels + princesses!” kept me away for a bit.

Robert at the Fantasy Book Critic did enjoy it somewhat, but found it lacking in depth, especially the characters and the deeper topics I mentioned above. Jackie at Literary Escapism absolutely loved it, though, so I’m looking forward to it. (Although, I have to admit, Disney bashing will get nowhere with me.)

The Stepsister Scheme was published on January 6, 2009.

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