Smith, Sherwood. The Trouble with Kings (2008). 328 Pages. Samhain Publishing. $5.00*
Princess Flian finds herself the unwilling object of desire of three royals. Is the one she wants a villainor 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. Who is the villain? Prince Garian Herlesterlanguid, elegant, sarcastic? Prince Jaimhe 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.
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.
Princess Flian is a very austere, civilized princess. She knows the rules of- and her role within- the royal court. She knows that she will someday marry for the good of her country. She also knows that her kingdom’s vast wealth, and her rather large dowry are her most attractive features, as she is otherwise quite ordinary. So when she finds herself being pursued by two kings and a prince, she has no doubt about what they are after– it’s certainly not her heart. However, Flian finds herself embroiled in intrigue, and entangled in so many plots and counter-plots that she can hardly think straight.
This was a surprisingly subtle book in a lot of ways, and I found that I really enjoyed that. Flian grows, her relationships shift and change, and she learns. She goes from an object which is acted upon to a person who makes conscious decisions about what she will do. Flian is not the only character to grow; Jewel makes great progress from beginning to end, and though it is hard to say whether other characters change, or it is just Flian’s understanding of them which develops, there are not many static characters.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things, actually, is the way Flian’s awareness changes. She becomes more aware of herself, and her roles. She begins to notice servants in a way that none in her class do. She discovers more about her family, her friends, her allies, her enemies, and the world in general. It’s an enlightening– if not always pleasant– adventure for princess Flian.
I’ve never read Sherwood Smith, and from the reviews I glanced at, it seems this wasn’t the best jumping off point**. However, I found that I really, really enjoyed the story. I had to put it down a few times– because of work, and sleep, and other necessities, but I certainly didn’t want to. It wasn’t a breathless, headlong rush, rather it took its time getting where it needed to go, building and developing, and generally rounding things out in such a way that it ended up being considerably more enjoyable.
Because I found that I loved the characters, and the story, and the world, and really everything about it, I have no choice but to give this book a full 5/5. It’s a book that I’m downright grateful I’ve added to my collection, and I can’t wait to read more books by Sherwood Smith.
* The Kindle edition is $5, while the paperback is $16. I got the Kindle version.
** It is set in the same world as her Crown Duel set, but is a bit later. I’m not sure what I missed (if anything) or what it would have added to have read that first, but I’ve bought it and plan to read it very soon.