The Trouble with Kings, by Sherwood Smith

[Happy V-Day to all (two of) my readers! –Stephanie]

Sherwood Smith is one of my favorite authors, prescription both for her writing in novels and her writing in her blog. She’s been posting random excerpts on her personal website (see sidebar) for many years, malady and a long time ago I remembered reading an excerpt that involved a young lady waking up in a bedroom with amnesia. The excerpt got taken down some time while I was in college (early 2000s), website and I found out about a year ago that it was going to be published as an e-book by Samhain. It’s available here for a very reasonable price, and will be published in print form around the end of this year.

First, I’d like to talk about the medium. I rarely read e-books, because I like physical book-objects too much, and most of my previous e-book reading had been books from major publishers through libraries. (Some libraries loan out e-books. Check yours for availability.) I still plan on purchasing this in physical form, since I still don’t feel that they’re permanent enough. (I must be too old.) The cover wasn’t bad, although a little clinchy and I feel it makes the main character look much younger than she is. The typesetting, I have to admit, disappointed me. It looked like it was in Times New Roman, font size 12, space-and-a-half — in other words, a little too much like papers I wrote in college. There was barely any space at the top of each chapter, and there were no text decorations (curlicues at the top and bottom, different font for the chapter headings, dividers, larger first letters) at all. I realize that they’re trying to produce these books with as little overhead as possible, but I would prefer if they looked a little more like a real book, and a little less like I was reading a draft copy of the story. That having been said, it was very clear and easy to read.

The content, I enjoyed very much. Flian is a young lady, a princess, who wakes up from a riding accident with no memory of who she is. A man, claiming to be her cousin, informs her that she is betrothed to another man, Jason, king of a nearby country. With no memory of anything, Flian has no choice but to trust them, but before too long, she’s kidnapped by someone claiming he’s rescuing her — Jaim, Jason’s brother. Flian recovers her memory soon after that, but nearly all that accomplishes is to let her know that she’s being used as a pawn — and three or four kidnappings later, she’s hopelessly entangled in a political situation she wants nothing to do with at all.

One of the things that I find most impressive about Sherwood Smith’s works is that the majority of them — which consists of more than thirty novels — are all set in the same world, one she invented in her teens. The Trouble With Kings is one of that majority, and yes, it’s set in the same world as her published works Crown Duel, Inda and its sequels, and Senrid. None of the characters from the other books come into play, though; this work can be read wholly independently, although allusions to various people and places make The Trouble With Kings a little more interesting to readers of her other works.

Flian is our first-person narrator; over the course of the work she changes from the invalid of the first few pages to the young lady who wishes only to be left alone with her music, and then to the active player of the last portion of the book. I found her very engaging; her discussions about music rang truly to my musician’s ears. Other characters were engaging, as well. I won’t reveal the name of the hero, but his character changes somewhat less than hers — it is mostly through revelations about the true motives behind his actions that we come to accept him as a hero, refuting the initial impression of him. My other favorite character turned out to be Jewel, sister to Jaim and Jason. She was volatile; Smith apparently has a penchant for writing steadfast hero(in)es and volatile best friends, and I support my thesis with Crown Duel (although I am referring to the hero in those) and the upcoming A Posse of Princesses. Jewel, also being a princess, deepened the political intrigue, and also provided for moments of emotion and honesty.

The plot moved fairly quickly; there was a lot of physical action and many different settings. I felt there was a good mix, though, of political action — diplomacy, dances, and talking — and physical action — kidnappings, escape, and danger. More kidnappings, and I’d start worrying about Flian’s mental health; more dances, and I think non-romance novel readers would get bored. Smith walked a fine line there, and handled it very well.

This book was thoroughly satisfying. I’d put that forth as the point on which I’d recommend it to most people. Readers who loved her Crown Duel will enjoy this book just as much, if not more: it’s got many of the same elements, with characters and settings that sparkle just as much. It’s a romance that’s very accessible to fantasy-lovers, and a fantasy that romance readers would love, as well as having more than enough political intrigue and action for readers of the stereotypically male persuasion. Middle-grade readers might not appreciate the politics as much as YAs and older, but there isn’t enough violence or sex that I would say to keep the book from them. I’d cheerfully rate this book 4.5/5 stars, and recommend it to anyone, previous reader of Sherwood Smith’s stuff or not.

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