Note: The version I have is two books Crown Duel and Court Duel published together with a short story/epilogue. There will be minor spoilers for Crown Duel because you can’t talk about Court Duel without them.
On his deathbed, Meliara’s father tells her and her brother that the time has come to enact their plan to oppose the king whose greed is leading the country to disaster. However, nothing is as easy as planned, and Meliara quickly finds that her lack of education about anything outside of her family’s lands is more of a liability than she knew. Uncertain of who and what she can trust, Meliara does her best to hold on to the oath she made her father about protecting their home. But even once the physical fighting is done, there’s still another battlefield for Meliara to face. She can no longer simply confine herself to her lands, and the world of the royal court is wholly unfamiliar with her. The stakes are just as high though as a misstep might plunge the country right back into crisis.
This book was so frustrating. There’s a lot of good in it. The worldbuilding is great. I loved most of the characters. However, for me the biggest flaw of this book is how Meliara is completely isolated and alone and uninformed. Even when she has people helping her, they don’t bother to tell her what they’re doing or why half the time, so she comes to wrong conclusions and often makes a mess of things. A lot of it does make sense in the first book because they are in the middle of a war, and she really doesn’t have much to go on, and her alliances are tentative at best, but then it continues on into the second book. Her brother, Bran, is a himbo, and completely oblivious to how much hurt he causes her. I have no doubt he loves Meliara, but he doesn’t understand very well and that contributes the problem. It was so frustrating to see the same pattern of events repeat over and over again. And because the story is told from Meliara’s point of view, often you’re internally screaming at her because the reader knows she’s reading things wrong even if she isn’t. I really wish that dynamic had changed when we got to the Court Duel part of the story. Even the short story/epilogue had shades of the same issues.
I also wish the romance was more developed than it was. Meliara isn’t even aware that she’s having romantic feeling for most of the story, and when she does realize that that’s what’s going on, there’s really to many other things going on with the plot for her to really process it. Like she was courting someone (who she doesn’t know the identity of) for ages and didn’t even realize it. And then the identity revel is really lost in the shuffle of a number of more important things going on. Still, I did read the entire book in one sitting because I wanted to know what happen. I think it’s probably a me problem more than a book problem, but still I was just so disappointed by the end of it. Two out of five stars.