Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Trouble with Kings by Sherwood Smith

The Trouble with Kings

The Trouble with Kings
by Sherwood Smith

Trade Paperback: 325 pages
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
First Released: 2008

Author Website

Source: Bought from Books-A-Million

Back Cover Blurb:
Princess Flian finds herself the unwilling object of desire of three royals. Is the one she wants a villain—or a hero?

Waking up in a strange place, Flian Elandersi at first doesn’t know who she is. One wicked prince tells her she is secretly engaged to an even more wicked king who wants to marry her right away. But before that happens, yet another wicked prince crashes through a window on horseback to sweep her off her feet.

Memory returns, and Flian realizes that all any of them seem to want is her considerable wealth, not her pleasant-but-ordinary self. She longs to escape the barracks-like, military atmosphere and return to civilization and her musical studies.

Flian endures another abduction, this time in the middle of a poetry reading. Who is the villain? Prince Garian Herlester—languid, elegant, sarcastic? Prince Jaim—he of the dashing horsemanship? Or King Jason Szinzar, whose ambiguous warning might be a threat?

Flian decides it’s time to throw off civilization and take action. The problem with action is that duels of wit turn into duels of steel—and love can’t be grabbed and galloped away.

In many ways, this book seemed like a trial run for Crown Duel. There were many similarities, yet this book just didn't measure up in comparison. Even taken on it's own, it had a major flaw.

I did like many of the characters and the pacing was good. The world-building was pretty good, but I sometimes felt like the author assumed I understood things that this story didn't fully explain. She also occasionally and randomly threw in archaic words or phrasings that weren't needed. Despite this, I probably would have given the book five stars.

However, the main character, Flian, is very passive. The flaw in the story is that she never stops being passive or really acts on what she's learned to make a noticeable difference in her future. For example, she's kidnapped repeatedly, yet never sees a kidnapping coming even though the clues are all there.

Yes, she's nice and she's brave when it comes to her friends, but even she realizes she's always reacting to what other people do to her rather than acting to change things for herself. Even the few actions she takes are more of a reaction to other people's actions than a real effort to take control of her own future. She seems content to allow others to take action on her behalf, too, even in the case of winning the man she loves. (She intended to spend the rest of her life moping and feeling sorry for herself in that regard until others make an effort to fix the relationship for her.)

So, despite some wonderful elements, the book left me feeling a little depressed because of Flian's helpless view of the world.

There are some small uses of standard fantasy magic, but no sex or cussing. Something that might be a concern for some readers is that two couples (all minor characters) are homosexual, and these couplings are treated as acceptable and normal.

Overall, I'd rate this book "mostly good, clean fun."

Excerpt: Chapter One
I woke up.

By the time I'd drawn one breath I realized that if I'd had anything else to do, I ought to have done it. My head ached before I even tried moving it. I decided not to try. Some experiments just aren't worth the effort.

So I closed my eyes and drifted, hoping for a dream to slip into. Then the squeak of a door and footsteps banished the possibility of sleep.

I turned my head--yes, it did hurt worse to move--and almost panicked at the fact that I couldn't see anything until I remembered that my eyes were still closed.


That's how bad the headache was.

Eyelids up, then. An old woman looked down at me, her hair hidden under a kerchief, her countenance anxious. When our eyes met, relief eased her brow.

"Ah. So glad you have rejoined the living, child. Don't worry none. My husband's gone straight to them't should know, and you'll be taken care of proper."

I tried to talk, but it came out a groan. So I tried again, making an effort not to move my head.

"Thank you..." Ho! It worked! Though only at a whisper. I added, "Don't know who 'them' is...but if you think 'they' should know...I won't argue." It took some time to get that out, and though I was trying to be reasonable, the poor woman was looking more anxious by the moment. "Uh, what happened?" I finished.

"You do not remember?"

"No." Could be this headache... Where am I? I thought--or tried to think--but the process was like trying to chase fireflies in fog, only it hurt. "Uh." I made another discovery. "I know it's going to sound somewhat scattered, but I can't seem to place who I am, either."

"Those knots on your head would account for it," she said in a soft, soothing voice. "I've heard o' that. Don't worry none. Your memory will return."

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