Back to the realm of fantasy for the next pick; Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith. (Formerly published as two books, Crown Duel and Court Duel)
When their dying father makes them promise to overthrow a tyrant king, Countess Meliara and her brother Branaric find themselves preparing for battle armed with little more than their ideals and courage. While their people aren’t formally trained in the ways of warfare, they are resourceful and have unparalleled knowledge of their land, giving them at least a foot-hold against the kings advancing armies. But when Meliara decides to take matters into her own hands and is captured while scouting, things take a turn for the worse, and, separated from her brother and the people she loves, she is forced to fight her own battle of survival alone. The second part of the Duet (formerly Court Duel) takes place after the war, but finds Mel reluctantly at court no longer fighting with swords, but instead waging a daily battle against duplicitous courtiers and their nefarious plots.
Courageous, stubborn, honorable, and sharp-tongued, Meliara is certainly not an infallible narrator, but her mistakes are made in earnest, and I always delight in a heroine who isn’t afraid to learn her lessons the hard way. I also appreciate a mortal heroine in a fantastic world; that is to say that though there is magic in Mel’s world, she herself does not possess any extraordinary gifts, making her that much more credible. The books are quick-paced, plot-driven and an entertaining read for fans of Alanna (see posting from Aug. 7) who are looking for a bit of a break from Tortall. These books are fun, and not, (as so many seem) intolerably romantic. The books are written for a slightly older audience, and aimed at grades 7-10.