Title: A Stranger to Command: A Prequel to Crown Duel
Author: Sherwood Smith
Rating: 3.5 stars
Publisher: Book View Cafe
Possible Censorship Issues: Mild forms of magic, mild thematic material
For anyone who loves Sherwood Smith’s Crown Duel, A Stranger to Command is an excellent prequel that gives a satisfying background to many favorite characters from the original book. As always, Smith’s grasp of world building is superb. She flawlessly creates civilizations and cultures with depth and imagination while embedding characters that reflect and compliment the society around them. The story follows the teenage years of Vidanric Renselaeus, Marquis of Shevraeth as he journeys to a foreign land to escape the precarious politics of his home court, while at the same time learning the rules and structures of both royal and military command. The book is a good mix of humor and excitement, and often I found myself laughing out loud (not to mention the several nights where I stayed up far too late reading).
While I did enjoy this book very much, I encountered a few issues that significantly lowered my opinion and the book’s enjoyability. This book is marketed as “a prequel to Crown Duel” (and it is a fantastic prequel in many ways)—what isn’t understood is that it’s also practically a sequel to several of Smith’s other books/series. There were several moments when major plot points from previous books were alluded too, but never fully explained to the reader (which was especially a problem since these plot points affected the major plot line of A Stranger to Command). A few times I was so distracted attempting to figure out exactly what had happened in these other books that I forgot to pay attention to what was happening in the book in front of me. Furthermore, I never had a clear idea who the villain was supposed to be, nor what exactly he had done in the past to make him so terrible—this was also made difficult in that no villain actually made an appearance in the book. Again, several villains from prior books were discussed, but their actions and crimes were always fairly ambiguous (although if I had known to read these other books first I would have been far more enlightened I suppose).
Another issue (though no fault of Smith’s) was that the printing of this book was poor. After excitedly curling up with A Stranger to Command, I spent the first several minutes staring at the book in utter confusion until I realized that the first twenty pages were actually the last five pages of another book entitled Beneath the Beardmore, followed by several pages of its “Notes On Contributors,” and ending with a strange two-page illustration of what seems to be a maze with a giant vine. I will grant that after the twenty pages of Beneath the Beardmore, a very nice, complete printing of A Stranger to Command appeared, so (thankfully) the printing issue didn’t affect the actual book I was reading.
But after an enjoyable story that looked to shape up to an exciting ending, the main story was completely dropped denying the reader the expected climax. Vidandric is magically whisked away to his native land (literally) and spends the last several chapters finding his way home. The last chapter felt very rushed and left me with more questions than answers, although in many ways it did set up well for Crown Duel to follow.
I really did enjoy A Stranger to Command very much, but it fell far short of my hopes for a book as wonderful as Crown Duel. It is exciting, humorous, and entertaining and is a book I would eventually read again (despite it’s disappointing flaws). I loved becoming more acquainted with Smith’s original characters and am excited that it will make my next reading of Crown Duel much more insightful and enjoyable.