Estara's Reviews > Coronets and Steel

Coronets and Steel by Sherwood Smith
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's review
Jul 10, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: read-in-2010
Recommended for: fans of Crown Duel and The Prisoner of Zenda

** spoiler alert ** Well, this will be a tough one to review, because I so much wanted to deeply love this book, as I love most books by Sherwood Smith.

Maybe if I hadn't read her Sasharia en Garde before (which has a girl of similar age with well explained personal paranoia of being hunted not trusting the hero who isn't honest with her at the start), or maybe if the heroine, Kim, hadn't pressed some of my personal buttons, I would have loved this more. I will definitely read the next book in this series and not just because I try anything by Sherwood Smith, but I really want to know what will happen next to Dobrenica and its inhabitants.

Don't get me wrong, I really like the setting and most of the characters. Smith has a skill of making even the shortest appearance of a person memorable, and I liked Theresa and her friends, Emilio, Kilber (who was mostly described by others), Kim's grandmere and her mum, Salfmatta Mina, Natalie Miller, the monks at the monastery, what little we saw of Alec's father and Alec himself (Apart from the story hook - his successful drugging of Kim whom he takes to be his fugitive bride-to-be - which to me didn't read at all typical for his behaviour in the rest of the book).

I didn't like the character of Tony (which is one reason why I couldn't understand Kim having any sort of sizzle with him), his mother and her side of the family, but this was mostly intended (although Tony is supposed to be a charming bounder, but not hopeless: to me he came across as an impulsive egoist) - as is explained in the last 30 pages of the book. When Ruli, the girl Kim sort of looks like, shows up and acts herself I mostly felt pity, although she is described by others as very selfish before.

I loved the country of Dobrenica, and although I was on holiday in Eastern Europe only twice (to Yugoslavia - at the time - and to Hungary) it read very believable, except for the special differences necessary to make it the liminal focus point described. I loved the legend of St. Xanpia and the different impressions of it that we got from the different storytellers, tied into how much the person speaking believed in the magic of Dobrenica in the first place.

Now for some of the buttons this pushed for me. Kim reads to me in the biggest part of the book like early Meliara of Crown Duel, totally bent on seeing life the way she wants to and ignoring anything that doesn't fit into that (the repeated avoidance of talking about politics in Dobrenica - after she was abducted and after she has been followed, so she ought to be aware there must be some danger).

I think that's a stupid outlook at an age of 23 or 24 (Meliara is 16 or thereabouts), and especially if you go on a long journey without anybody else in a country you have never been to before (she does that from Vienna to wherever else she goes). I can understand her changing majors, even people in their 20s don't necessarily find what they want to do with their life in the long run right away, but going with a guy into a wine cellar and drinking lots of alcohol, just because he's cute looking and after you already had been propositioned by some creep earlier - that's just too stupid.

Then she gets drugged and abducted and does some really courageous escaping (I enjoyed this!) but has to rejoin her captor Alec, who realizes his mistake and explains what he'd like her to do and she agrees. Fair enough, but she still doesn't truly know him from Adam and he already abducted her and SHE CAN'T BE BOTHERED TO PHONE OR WRITE HER PARENTS EVEN ONCE!! I'm talking about her jet-setting in Split, etc. not Dobrenica where electricity doesn't always work in the first place. All this while her parents don't know what is wrong with the grandmother.

I can again totally understand when she decides to find out about her true heritage because Alec implies that her grandmother's marriage didn't happen. But again she doesn't bother to let anyone know of her change in plans, although Alec has already told her that the situation in Dobrenica is problematic, that Ruli hasn't shown up yet - so it might be wise to not vanish from the face of the earth for her family.

Alec himself we mostly hear about, but there's a part of the book at the beginning of the developments in Dobrenica where he at least shows up in the evening. Kim makes him smile and relax, so I can see the attraction from that side - I never quite understand why Kim develops an attraction towards Alec, though (admiration, yes, that part is well explained).

Since the whole book is written as an account to someone else (a feature Smith likes to use - I expect because you can include unreliable narration but also outside information that the writer/teller had later on) the reader reads as Kim. There is this dichotomy between some of her musings, which make her sound mature or normal for her age and wilful ignorance which makes her childish.

She gives her word under pressure or persuasion but never quite finds herself bound to it, although Alec also doesn't explain enough about the danger she and he are in. At one point she makes a decision to follow her word because she's sure she won't be able to successfully break it. I didn't like that at all.

I do understand her impulsive behaviour to help her aunt Sisi - that a 23 year old might not read under the surface of people's behaviours is not unusual to me, I was the same at that age, so she takes people as they sell themselves and gets taken in an already upset situation (after the disruption of the masquerade) and is persuaded by the scheming duchess to come to Ruli's aid.

The whole escape attempt from the castle was a lovely tour-de-force of derring-do and bits of magic happening and sacrifice. And the aftermath with Alec and Kim at the picnic and finally talking about what is going on and with Kim and Ruli talking about the future (her lack of maturity shows up nicely when she tells Ruli to only be herself and then right after tells her what kinds of changes and things she would do if she were in Ruli's situation) and Kim making a believable sacrifice really saved the book for me.

Smith has said she wanted to write a girl showing courage, dash and honour. Kim always shows courage and dash - but I had hoped for more brains - and she has a large dollop of honour (especially in her end decision of doing what is best for the country - although I really think Alec, whose life is directly impacted by this decision, should have had a chance to hear her choice - I wouldn't be surprised, as he always sets the country first but did go with her on that picnic anyway, if he didn't have a solution for that) with a few let-downs in keeping to her word.

What I want in the follow-up is more Alec and less Tony, more Dobrenica and more development of maturity for Kim. She really can do with some at her age.
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Reading Progress

July 10, 2010 – Shelved
September 8, 2010 – Started Reading
September 8, 2010 – Shelved as: read-in-2010
September 8, 2010 –
page 257
61.19% "Okay, the start is a bit slow, but as soon as "Mr. Darcy" shows up, the story takes off. I also had some minor problems with some misspelled German words Stadthalter => Statthalter (the holder of a place instead of the owner of the empire/kingdom/country, etc.), Pensione => Pension - but that's still much better than the German in other books by non-German authors ^^."
September 9, 2010 –
page 350
September 9, 2010 – Finished Reading

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