New Release: Sasharia en Garde by Sherwood Smith

Sasharia en Garde is a duology that was previously published as two books: Once a Princess and Twice a Prince. I read these two books before I started the blog and loved them. Naturally, I want to spread the word about them. I have a review that I posted way back in 2010. The duology has been redesigned and released as one book, the way it was meant to be. Sherwood Smith talks about her writing process for these books in this Goodreads post. I have fond memories of reading Sasharia en Garde so maybe I should revisit these characters. I remember that the writing had a similar feel to Crown Duel (one of my all time favorite novels) so be sure to check these out if you enjoyed reading that book.

Sasharia en Garde

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

First published as two books— Once a Princess, and Twice a Prince — this romantic fantasy has been published as one book, as first intended. It is set in the same world as Crown Duel, to which Sasha’s mother, Sun, was once swept away by a real prince.

But not to happily ever after. Her prince vanished, and a wicked king took the throne. Since then, Sasha and Sun have been hiding on Earth, both training in martial arts until Sasha is tricked into going back to Khanerenth.

She’s more than ready to kick some bad-guy butt, but is the stylish pirate Zathdar the bad guy? Or artistic, dreamy Prince Jehan, son of the wicked king?

Meanwhile Sun is determined to cross worlds to save her daughter. She might not have been a very good princess, but nobody messes with Mom!

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books I Read Before I Was A Blogger

Top Ten Tuesday2

I’ve been wanting to participate in Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) for a while now but I keep forgetting about it. I only remember when I see tweets from other bloggers and by that time, it’s already Wednesday in my side of the world. Fortunately, I looked up the topic ahead of this week so now I get to put up my first ever Top Ten Tuesday post! Most of the books that I read nowadays are recommendations from trusted book bloggers and friends. Because there are so many reading choices out there, I rarely read books just based on the cover and synopsis. Back before I started blogging, that’s how I found out about books though. In no particular order, here are some of my favorites before I started my blog in 2010:

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale – I can still remember seeing the pretty cover, illustrated by Alison Jay, and thinking that the book looks like something that I’d enjoy reading even if I wasn’t that familiar with the original Goose Girl story. My instincts were right, I fell in love with The Goose Girl and it’s still one of my favorite fairy tale retellings. It was an added bonus that I discovered other favorite titles through Shannon Hale’s recommendations in her blog.

Goose Girl_Alison Jay

The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner – My love for MWT’s books knows no bounds, I even organized a Queen’s Thief Week to celebrate her work. I’m always curious whenever a review mentions writing or characters similar to MWT’s (although more often than not, I get disappointed because my expectations are so high). I’m so glad Shannon Hale featured MWT on her blog because that’s how I discovered this amazing series. Before my blog, I usually got ideas of what to read from Sounis, the LiveJournal community for MWT fans. I was pretty active there back when I was still using LiveJournal.

Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith – Another title that I discovered through Shannon Hale’s blog! During the time I discovered Crown Duel, I was starting to realize that I have a thing for fantasy novels and it definitely fit the bill. I also loved how nice and friendly Sherwood is to her fans, she’s quite active in the Athanarel LiveJournal community (another source of excellent recommendations before I started my blog). I was lucky enough to meet her in person when we had a Sounis/Athanarel meet up back in 2009:

Sounis Athanarel Meet Up

I Do and At First Sight by Elizabeth Chandler – I’ve talked about the Love Stories series several times here on the blog. That was the series that I closely followed as a teenage girl and Elizabeth Chandler’s I Do and At First Sight are my favorites. I can even remember the number of times I’ve reread these books. They’re out of print titles, otherwise I’d probably get duplicates because my copies are so battered.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman – I remember borrowing a copy of this from a college friend and I knew after finishing that I had to get my own copy. I got a paperback that I let my friends borrow and also a graphic novel edition because the artwork by Charles Vess is just lovely.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman – I read this trilogy back in college, based on the recommendation of a classmate. It was during finals week and I was supposed to be studying instead of reading for pleasure but I couldn’t help it, the series was just too good to put down.

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling – I found out about this series in high school. It was my mom who got me started on Harry Potter, she got me copies of the first four books that were out then. After that, I eagerly waited for the release date of books five to seven. I had to watch the movies in cinemas as soon as they were shown too. I followed this series from high school to college up until I started working. I really am part of the Harry Potter generation, it was a part of my life for so many years.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis – This series is one of my childhood favorites. I discovered it because some of the titles were available in my grade school library. Unfortunately, they didn’t have all of the books in the series. I only got to read the entire series when I ordered copies online when I was in high school (bookstores in Manila didn’t have such great stocks back then). I get the feeling that I can read the Narnia books as an adult and I would love them just as much as I did when I was a kid.

A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson – Here’s another title that I found interesting because of the cover and title. I checked the premise at the back and thought that the book looked like something I’d enjoy reading. I was right. This was my first taste of Eva Ibbotson’s writing and she quickly became a favorite author after I finished reading this.

A Countess Below Stairs

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley – I love kick ass heroines in fantasy novels and Harry is one of my favorites. I’m a fan of girls who take matters into their own hands, instead of waiting to be saved or rescued by someone else. Each of Robin McKinley’s novels has a heroine like that, which is why she’s an auto-read author for me.

I guess I cheated because I included trilogies and series in my list but I couldn’t really help it, there are just way too many good books out there. I had a hard enough time narrowing down my list. What about you, what are some of your favorite books that you read before you started your blog? How did you discover them?

Want Books: Banner of the Damned

Want Books? is a weekly meme hosted here at Chachic’s Book Nook and features released books that you want but you can’t have for some reason. It can be because it’s not available in your country, in your library or you don’t have the money for it right now. Everyone is free to join, just grab the image above. Leave a comment with a link to your post so I can do a roundup with each post.

I’m a fan of Sherwood Smith’s writing. I’ve read most of the books that she’s written and my favorites are Crown Duel (along with its companion novel, A Stranger to Command, and the short stories about Mel’s children) and the Sasharia en Garde duology. Banner of the Damned is set in the same world, in a different location and hundreds of years earlier. Sadly, it’s not available in local bookstores. I’m thinking of ordering it from the Book Depository but it’s a bit pricey at $25.95. I’m still trying to decide if I want it bad enough or if I should wait for the paperback to be released.

Here’s the summary from Sherwood Smith’s website:

Princess Lasva, justly famed across the continent for her style, lives for love. Unfortunately, princesses do not have the luxury of choosing love over politics. Thus she finds herself on the other side of the continent, newly wed to the prince of Marloven Hesea, a kingdom very, very different from Colend, her homeland.

Emras, Lasva’s personal scribe, is ordered by Colend’s queen to watch for signs of Norsunder’s magic, as there are dire rumors about Marloven Hesea. But Emras knows nothing about magic, and the mages she consults scold her for not going through proper channels

So when Emras finds a willing tutor, and Lasva tries to use Colendi diplomacy to avert Marloven war, life gets really complicated. That’s before the real threat emerges.

What about you, what book is in your wishlist?

Queen’s Thief Week: Guest Post by Sherwood Smith

Like Megan Whalen Turner, I discovered Sherwood Smith back in 2007 through Shannon Hale’s blog. After reading that interview, I went to a local bookstore, grabbed a copy of Crown Duel and promptly fell in love with Meliara, Vidanric and the world of Sartorias-deles. I’ve been a huge fan ever since. I knew that Sherwood loves the Queen’s Thief series because when I was in the States in 2009, I was lucky enough to attend a joint SounisAthanarel meet up.

I asked Sherwood to write a guest post for Queen’s Thief Week and she graciously accepted. Here you are, folks, a review of one of my absolute favorite series from one of my favorite authors. Take note of the warning about spoilers though and only proceed if you’ve read all of the books.

Warning up front: I tried not to be spoilery, but if one is going to riff about four interconnected books, there have to be references to key events.

The Thief and secrets

I first read The Thief when it came out. Right away I knew something was up. In fact, the structure of the opening was sufficiently odd that I had to go back and reread it before I could proceed with the journey. On the reread, the cluebat hit me: Gen (Eugenides, the central character and narrator) was hiding something, probably his relationship with the king. But you know the difference between surprise and suspense: surprise is for both reader and characters, and suspense is when the reader knows what’s coming (or thinks she knows) and the characters don’t.

The structure of the opening suggested to this adult reader that Gen — apparently so open, ruefully honest about many of his shortcomings — was hiding the real truth from the reader, and little clues along the way bolstered the impression. I read happily, because the trope of sekrit identities is one of my favorites, and the writing was so vivid, so full of wry humor, the world so interesting that I could scarcely put the book down to attend to my daily tasks.

Would I have guessed at Gen’s secret had I been a young reader? I doubt it very much. If I’d read this book at age thirteen, I am certain I would have accepted Gen’s pose as an urchin and thief at face value, and thus enjoyed the surprise along with the characters at the end. I think this is one of the signs of a good book — that one can come at it from any age, with the wide spectrum of reading experience, and still find pleasure in it.

The Queen of Attolia vs. Mary Sue

Because I was trying to live three lives (teacher, parent, writer) my reading tended to go through waves. Thus, I read a discussion of The Queen of Attolia before I had a chance to get and read the book. Much of the discussion centered around readers’ shocked reactions to an early event in the story. Many seemed to feel that this event, and the tone overall, was “not for younger readers.”

The debate about what is appropriate for young readers and what isn’t rages on all over the Internet, and I don’t intend to get into it here. Far as I am concerned, young adult books are enjoyed by high schoolers and college students as well as middle schoolers — and adults. Young readers, especially those who love reading, will venture into deeper waters when they feel they are ready.

Anyway, back to the book, and the discussion of the event. Since I’d read this discussion, I knew what was coming. Would I have been shocked out of the book if I hadn’t been? No. The foreshadowing definitely set it up. How about as a kid reader? I don’t think so. I’d read some fairly rough stuff as a kid — Lord of the Flies when I was twelve, for example. I was one of those who ventured into deep waters at an early age. Yes, I did get stung hard a few times, and yes, there are even some books I wish now I had never read, but they might not be the ones you would think, or for reasons you would guess.

Here’s something I’ve noticed in my decades of working with kids. They have a strong sense of justice, bolstered by that tendency to see things in black and white. Most of those youngsters I’ve talked about this book with were united in agreeing on this point: What happened to Gen was earned.

Does that mean he deserved to suffer?

No! Readers adore Gen! My teens weren’t articulate about why the event wasn’t unjust, though they didn’t feel he deserved to suffer, but here’s how I see it.

Many of us (my hand is in the air) love heroic figures, and Gen is definitely heroic. Some people object to heroic figures as unrealistic, and you get pejorative terms like “Mary Sue” and “Marty Stu” thrown around. Well, (rapping my cane on the floor) I was around when Mary Sue was shorthand for Lieutenant Mary Sue — the character representing the author of many Star Trek fan fictions. Sometimes she was drop dead gorgeous, other times she looked exactly like the author, but one thing for certain: everybody on board the Enterprise was in love with her, talked about her, was amazed by her. Scottie, stumped by some engineering crisis, hailed her solution with relief — Spock, presented with a scientific dilemma, turned to her for advice — Captain Kirk tended to lurk around wringing his hands until she responded to his flirtation. Or (this was pre-slash) he and Spock might fight over her.

And, more often than not (because in those days TV episodes had to dial the story back to the starting place because of summer reruns, so nothing ever actually changed), by the story’s end the entire ship of several thousand would be in deep mourning after Lieutenant Mary Sue died heroically saving them.

The important thing is that the author told you that Mary Sue was the best, the brightest, the cutest. Or if the author tried to show you, it meant making everyone else dumb so that Mary Sue could be smarter. It meant making the side characters into stick figures who only existed to look at, talk about, and fall in love with Mary Sue. They gave no indication of lives, loves, wits, motivations of their own.

That’s the true definition of a Mary Sue: the character that the author tells you is the hero. It’s a pleasant kind of wish-fulfillment story, and sometimes we need a good dose of wish-fulfillment. But the author who gives us a hero instead of a wish-fulfillment central character convinces us of the character’s heroism. That means the hero/heroine demonstrates behavior in the face of adversaries as smart as he, or she, is. Most importantly, the story shows us the cost of heroism.

And this is where Gen comes in. In The Thief, Gen largely sails through unscarred, if not completely unscathed. But in The Queen of Attolia, when Gen sets out to do something heroic, he pays the hero’s price. And we are there for every moment of that price, including the emotional fallout. He earned his heroic stature. And that’s one of the things that makes The Queen of Attolia a great book.

Kings and The King of Attolia

The Thief is narrated by Gen. The Queen of Attolia opens with a narrator observing Gen, occasionally giving us a glimpse of his emotions. The narrator of The King of Attolia observes most of the action of the book through the eyes of Costis, a young Attolian who thoroughly dislikes the new king. The readers see Gen from a new perspective as Costis deals with this outlander king and how he will fit in with Attolia’s difficult court.

When I was a kid, I did what many kids (and adults, truth be told) do: divided people into two kinds. My “two kinds” were what I later came to call survivors and normal. Survivors were those who had discovered that the places in life one expects to be safe aren’t necessarily. Survivors could be those who had lived through an earthquake strong enough to tumble school or home — people whose houses had burned down — people who had had war or pestilence sweep through, people whose adult guardians had turned out to be more dangerous than all the above things. People who had lovely safe homes, but lived through hell at school, yet the adults who cared for them seemed to be oblivious. Survivors survived dramatic events, or painfully private, personal ones.

Survivors did not all react the same. In one instance, a family with a pair of twins narrowly escaped a sudden house fire. In after years, one twin talked about the fire a lot, saying it was exciting, even awesome, and ended up as an adrenaline junky, getting into a lot of trouble until finally ending up as a Navy Seal. The other twin could never talk about the fire at all, instead was plagued with horrible nightmares about it, and in later years hated any kind of change or new thing. There was never enough safety, because even locked up at night, with a window escape three feet from the bed, and fire alarms in every room — every wall — there were still those midnight what-ifs. Finally that twin tried escape through drugs, until getting help through a very wise religious counselor.

Now we call that survival thing PTSD, and recognize that not just veterans of wars can suffer from it: anyone can. Including kids. The key word is trauma. My ‘survivors’ were those who had survived trauma. And Gen is a survivor of a whole lot of traumas.

So here he is, a survivor who finds himself king. He has attained the pinnacle of kingship without having progressed to it by the (relatively) safe method of inheritance. Kingship can be a dangerous height to one who rises to it suddenly. The fall can be just as sudden.

In this book, we see the personal as well as the political costs of kingship.

It’s important to emphasize that ‘personal’ because we get a wonderful glimpse of Irene’s and Gen’s marriage, and how two survivors manage to make it work. One of my favorite passages is a quiet moment when Irene and Gen are dancing together. It is a rare scene from her point of view. Take a look at this passage:

Eugenides, minding the pattern with his feet and spinning the queen with one hand, had been pulling out her hairpins one by one when her back was turned. The rest of the pins loosened, and her hair dropped free. It swung out as she spun and the last of the pins bounced and slid across the marble floor.

The queen was several inches taller than Eugenides, and he leaned back to counter her spin. To those watching, it didn’t seem possible that he could succeed, but with one hand, and no visible effort, he defied the laws of the natural world. Phresine, the queen’s senior attendant, watched them from behind the throne as her queen danced like a flame in the wind, and the mercurial king like the weight at the center of the earth. Faster and faster they moved, never faltering, until the music shrilled at an impossible tempo and the pattern gave way to a long spin, each danger reaching in with one hand and out with the other, holding tight lest they fall away from each other, until the music stopped abruptly and the dance ended.

Like those hairpins, Gen skillfully plucks away at Costis’s assumptions and prejudices. Winning this single subject is important to Gen, which demonstrates how he wins over a difficult kingdom.

The Weight of Crowns and A Conspiracy of Kings

With the fourth book, we take yet another step further away from Gen as we return to first person narrative, this time with Sophos, whom we met in the first book. And again we have a first person narrative, alternating with an observer’s third.

For a good part of the book Gen is not present on stage at all, though the effect of his presence is felt, and the consequences of kingship become important in the second half. Also the costs. This book felt to me like it was setting up an arc that will show us Gen’s apotheosis as basileus: no longer can he rely on being the trickster, or use a façade of foolishness as a tactical advantage. That leaves me wondering about the emotional cost Gen is paying, for we get a hint that there is a tremendous personal cost when kings make certain types of decisions.

I look forward to future books exploring that and other questions that occur to me every time I reread the books. Because a great book rewards rereads as well as that first exciting discovery: in great books, there is always something new to discover.

Thank you, Sherwood! I was thrilled when I received this detailed analysis of the series from Sherwood. It highlights some of the reasons why I love MWT’s books. Do you agree or disagree with what Sherwood said? Let’s hear it in the comments!

Retro Friday: A Stranger to Command

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville, which features old favorites or under-the-radar books that don’t get enough attention. For my Retro Friday post today, I thought I’d write about a book by one of my favorite authors – A Stranger to Command by Sherwood Smith. This book is the prequel to the more popular Crown Duel but focuses only on Vidanric and his life as a teenager.

Here’s the summary from Sherwood Smith’s website:

This is the young adult prequel to Crown Duel, telling the story of Vidanric Renselaues, sent to Marloven Hess at age fifteen to learn military command. Shevraeth has spent his boyhood as a courtier and knows little more than the art of dueling, but an increasingly bad king, and the disappearance of heirs whom the king doesn’t like, make it clear that one day, things would have to change.

But first, Vidanric would have to change. Beginning by losing his name, and taking on an identity under his territorial title, Shevraeth. Would he lose his real identity?

I love Crown Duel and it’s in my list of favorites. Vidanric is also in my list of fictional guy crushes. I loved that Sherwood wrote Crown Duel outtakes, which involved certain scenes told from the point of view of Vidanric (these are included in the e-book version, which can be purchased here). Vidanric was so aloof for the most of Crown Duel so it was refreshing to see his side of the story. A Stranger to Command gives us a more intimate look at how Vidanric became the person that he was in Crown Duel. For some reason, even though Crown Duel is popular, not a lot of people know that there’s a prequel for it.

I put off reading this book for some time because one of the biggest highlights of Crown Duel for me was the love story between Mel and Vidanric. I didn’t want to read about Vidanric without Mel in the picture. But being a Sherwood Smith fan, I gave in eventually and I don’t regret doing so. Vidanric is sent to the foreign land of Marloven Hess to begin his military training and this is how he gains his formidable fighting skills. It’s not easy for him to leave his family and the comforts of the life that he’s known but it’s necessary for his safety and for the future good of Remalna that he train himself in the art of war. Marlovens are experts at this, they have studied military command for centuries. They have a military school that takes in students as young as ten years old. Training begins early for these people. At fifteen, Vidanric is actually old for a beginner and he’s a foreigner to boot. It’s the first time that the school allowed a foreigner to enter. So aside from the difficulties of training and adjusting to a new environment, Vidanric has to deal with the hostilities of his classmates. He does it with the aplomb that we’ve come to expect of his character.

This is an excellent, character-driven story in the same wonderful world of Crown Duel. There’s magic, political intrigue, romance and a whole lot of other challenges that make things interesting. I highly recommend this book to fans of Crown Duel, I know that there are many out there. It has the same lovely writing and is set in the same world albeit a different country. I also enjoyed seeing the references to the Inda series, which I read before this one. Hmm that reminds me, maybe I should do a Retro Friday post for the Inda books as well.

Retro Friday: Sasharia En Garde!

Retro Friday is a meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville about books that are old favorites or books that bloggers think don’t get the attention they deserve. This is also a ploy to get Angie to read the books that I write about. 😛 I seem to be doing a lot of Retro Friday posts lately but I can’t help myself. I’m a huge Sherwood Smith fan and I feel like I don’t talk enough about her here in my blog. I was lucky enough to meet her when I went to States last year and I attended a Sounis/Athanarel joint meet-up. You can follow her blog posts in her LiveJournal, where she talks a lot about books and writing. Or you can join the LiveJournal community for Sherwood Smith fans: Athanarel, where you can post questions on any of her books or just write what you think about them. Anyway, today I’d like to talk about Sherwood’s Sasharia En Garde duology: Once a Princess and Twice a Prince.

Here’s the summary for Once a Princess from Samhain Publishing’s website:

Swashbuckling in a magic world—L.A. style!

Sasharia en Garde! Book 1.

Sasha’s mother, Sun, was once swept away from a Ren Faire to another world by a prince—literally—but there was no happy ending. Sun’s prince disappeared, and a wicked king took the Khanerenth throne. In the years since, Sasha and Sun have been back on Earth and on the run. Mom and daughter don’t quite see eye to eye on the situation—Sasha wants to stand and fight. Sun insists her prince will return for them one day; it’s safer to stay hidden.

Then Sasha is tricked into crossing the portal to Khanerenth. She’s more than ready to join the resistance, kick some bad-guy butt, and fix the broken kingdom. But… is the stylish pirate Zathdar the bad guy? Or artistic, dreamy Prince Jehan?

Back on Earth, Sun is furious Sasha has been kidnapped. Sun might once have been a rotten princess, but nobody messes with Mom!

Warning: This title contains a kick-butt mother-daughter team, a wicked king, a witty pirate with an unfortunate taste for neon colors, inept resistance fighters, a dreamy prince who gallops earnestly hither and yon, and a kick-butt princess in waiting.

I’m not going to post the summary for Twice a Prince because it contains spoilers for Once a Princess but I highly recommend that you purchase both books together as the first has a cliffhanger ending. I think that like Crown Duel, which was originally published as two books, Crown Duel and Court Duel, it would be better to read the two books together. Speaking of Crown Duel, the Sasharia En Garde duology starts in L.A. but Sasha travels to Sartorias-deles, the world where Crown Duel is set. The familiar characters in Crown Duel do not make an appearance in this one because they’re set in different kingdoms.

The main character, Sasha, is a female who is skilled in the art of swordplay. Spending years on the run, she has learned to protect herself by training on fencing and other fighting techniques. She is not a typical princess-in-waiting at all because she grew up on Earth living a normal life (if you can call always worrying whether someone is after you normal). Plus she’s tall and not dainty in any way. I also like Sasha’s humor and how she tries to make the best out of any situation. That’s Sasha in the cover right there, with her wild, curly, blonde hair and her “Got Books?” shirt. Don’t you just love that shirt? I want to have one just like it. The storytelling can be a bit confusing because aside from starting in L.A. and moving to Sartorias-deles, the point of view also changes from one person to another. If you stick with it though, I assure you that you’re in for quite a ride. I love Sherwood Smith’s worldbuilding and she’s been writing about Sartorias-deles since she was a child. The characters here are not cardboard cutouts, even the actions of the villains are explained. As always, I’m amazed at how well Sherwood writes about attraction and relationships and the implications involved.

Basically, the warning above sums it up well. If you’re a Crown Duel fan and you haven’t read this, you should get to it as soon as you can! I’d love to know what you think. I also recommend this for other fantasy fans out there who are interested in a fun and unusual adventure story. And if you haven’t read Crown Duel and have no idea what I’ve been talking about, click here to read one of my earlier reviews (originally posted in LiveJournal) and my attempt to convince others to read the book.