‘You can’t get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.’
-C. S. Lewis
One of the hazards of being a fast reader is that good, long books are never long enough. Last night I finished Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith, approximately 450 pages, after only five sittings. As much as I enjoy the country and people and world of Remalna, Renselaeus, and the court of Athanarel, there is still a sense of disappointment that I could not enjoy them longer. This is my first reread of the book since last summer, where it took me longer to read because I had to check out the two books from the library (Crown Duel and Court Duel, though now they are published together as one book). While I read I would occasionally think, “These events are happening a lot faster than I remember them happening”—but then, this is a 450-page book, they actually weren’t. It was me who was racing headlong through the story and I suppose it’s my own fault that it finished before I wanted it to.
Though, in some ways, I am surprised that I like Crown Duel as much as I do. Publishers Weekly says that it is, ‘A fantasy world fit for the most discriminating medieval partisan’, and I agree. The world, the court, the plot, the people, are all in character and in period, even if it is not exactly Earth’s medieval period (because it isn’t). But I do just want to shake Meliara, often, because she sees only what she wants to see and most of the time she’s wrong. Yet she is also honest, and even when she makes the wrong decisions she makes them for the right reasons. She is very much a dynamic character; her growth is both noticeable and believable. As Vidanric so astutely observes, she does have the remarkable ability to win partisans, even very exasperated readers.
I am also surprised because this time around I was often reminded of The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy. Marguerite also saw only what she wanted to see, and refused to speak to the one person who would be able to illuminate present questions (albeit her refusal was for different reasons). Marguerite annoyed me to no end. I think, however, this is in part to Baroness Orczy’s florid and sensational writing. The reader was never allowed to forget that Marguerite was the ‘cleverest woman in Europe’, ‘a queen among the wittiest persons in Paris’, etc etc, and yet nearly every decision Marguerite made was misguided and nearly led to disaster. Crown Duel, I am proud to say, is writing much more suited to my tastes and Meliara is never presented as being beyond her abilities; though she is very smart, she is ignorant, and once she becomes aware of this fact, endeavors to remedy it. Though, I will admit that it was worth reading the 210 pages or so in The Scarlet Pimpernel to get to the snuff box scene. That one scene is fantastic.
However, I am still slightly deflated that Crown Duel is over. All of my books are already packed, and while it isn’t too difficult to pick another one out, I’m not sure what I want to read next, and whatever it is, it will inevitably be at the bottom of the box. However, today is September 1st, the first day of the final month for Bede, and so, perhaps, I shall spend today and tomorrow rereading the 150 pages or so of our little story about the magician and the beautiful foreign queen.