Book Review: The Trouble with Kings by Sherwood Smith

Originally posted on December 8, 2011.

If you haven’t read Sherwood Smith, she might be better known as the woman who wrote about Magic Schools before Magic Schools were popular.

A different novel of hers, Wren to the Rescue, is the first book of that series. It is set on its own world, unlike Harry Potter, but it might be of interest to those who like that sort of story. I just thought I would mention it, since it is also on my kindle right along with The Trouble with Kings.

But, I digress. I own quite a few Sherwood Smith books, although I have some mixed feelings in general. I’ll explain during the review. But first, to the relevant information on the title:

Format: Kindle Edition
    File Size: 571 KB
    Print Length: 328 pages
    Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd. (February 12, 2008)
    Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
    Language: English
    ASIN: B0015YEQKU
    Lending: Enabled

This book tells the story of Princess Flian. It starts off with our lead lady suffering from a bout of amnesia, and a Prince comes to her rescue. But it quickly becomes apparent that the prince is anything but a White Knight. Caught in a scheme that would result in her marriage to King James, it is through the effort of James’s brother that she is kidnapped rescued and taken to the mountains.

From there, the plot descends a bit into the absurd, with a series of kidnappings and rescues that make most fairy tales seem tame. If you enjoy kidnap and rescue plots, this book is so for you. I won’t expose the number of times the characters are kidnapped and rescued, but it is definitely among the most common plot mechanisms used. To be fair, there are other situations from which characters are rescued, but sometimes it made me wonder if a better title for this book might be, 101 Ways to Get in and Out of Trouble with Kings.

Don’t worry, though. There is plenty of court intrigue for those who like it. That said, this book targets a female audience and may induce fits of helpless giggling at the situations that occur. Sherwood Smith does a good job of bringing the court to life, so if you are interested in a light read that does deal with intrigue, you may want to look at this book.

The first time I read this book, which was probably five or six months ago, I will confess that the twist at the end was not much of a twist. You can identify pretty quick who Flian wants. You can also identify who Princess Jewel, James’s sister, also wants. If you want surprise in your romance, you won’t get it here. The fun of this book is in the blatant, free-spirited nature of the writing, the characters, and the romps through court and countryside.

If I had to pick a flaw of this book, it would be in the writing itself. First, it is written in first person. This isn’t my favorite point of view. Sherwood Smith makes it work, and I was able to ignore my general dislike for it, but there you have it.

Second, I always felt there was a feel of the modern in the writing. It doesn’t feel so much of a whole new world with completely new contrivances, so much as a second Earth that happens to have magic, whole new kingdoms, and all of the things that go with Kingdoms that are near one another all vying for power.

The writing isn’t bad, but it isn’t stellar. It wasn’t the writing quality that caught my attention about this book, but rather the characters and the absurdity that left me giggling throughout. there were points I stopped, stared at the text, and went, “Are you kidding me?”

My last gripe is with the descriptions. Sherwood Smith will take the time to explain the material and fabric of dresses, but good luck getting a really solid mental image of the castle. I simply gave up hoping for significant descriptions and put all of the characters in the most fairy-tale castles i could think of. That idea worked well for this book, and I recommend doing this if you are going to give this book a read.

It isn’t all bad, however. The writing style does allow for the characters to make a strong stand through the novel. And make no mistake, it is the characters that carry this book, not the plot or the writing.

It is the characters that made this book really so enjoyable. You have Princess Flian, who acts just like I felt a Princess should — a little stuck up, but a real person with a love of music and a dislike of everyone and their cousin wanting her for her money and not for the rest of her. She is in the situation to wed for love and not power or wealth, and she knows it. She starts off weak and becomes strong, which is something I definitely appreciated reading through.

And Princess Flian isn’t alone. Princess Jewel is an excellent counterpoint to Flian, offering important bits of humor, friendship, and the necessary movements in plot that keep this book from going completely in circles. Jewel has a major fatal flaw, though. I wouldn’t quite call her born yesterday, but the general idea did pop to mind here and there as the book progressed.

The villains in this book are absolutely delicious. I loved them, or loved hating them. They’re people. Some of them definitely fit the saying of, ‘They are heroes of their own stories’. One of them is just a sleaze that I really, really enjoyed hating. The ‘villains’ aren’t always cookie cutter, and things arent always what it seems, which is something I liked a lot about this book.

If you’re looking for a complex plot, look away. I don’t recommend this book in terms of plot. There are repeated mechanisms, obvious mechanisms, and a general lack of uniqueness to this book. All in all, it is a snicker’s bar read. But, the plot does serve its purpose. It gives the characters a place to stand while they romp through the book. But, if you don’t like repetition and a certain amount of irony, you may dislike the book based on the plot.

I could ‘What if’ all day long, but the truth of the matter is, I wouldn’t avoid this book just because the plot isn’t all that I hoped it could be. The characters more than make up for it, although I suspect if the plot had matched the characters, this would be a non-stop read. Or, if, perhaps, there had been one or two less rescues. It does lose its glitter after the first couple of times it happens, even if the characters being rescued change a little. In pursuit of honesty, it isn’t always the same character in need of rescue!

If Characters, Plot, and Writing were all that made up a book, I wouldn’t be able to rate it overall this high. But, the simple truth of the matter is, I enjoyed this book. It was a fun read. It was an escape from the norm, and it made me laugh. There were points I had to stop reading because I was laughing so hard. Both from the humor of the book and the absurdity of some of the parts of the book.

It also kept me up past my bed time the first and second time I read the book. This definitely counts for something, and the overall reflects this. I wouldn’t go so far as to give it a 5*, because there are so many things that didn’t meet up to my general expectations, but the truth of the matter is, this book is fun. Fun doesn’t need to be elegance in writing, gold and silver dishware, and a steaming cup of tea served in fine, gold-rimmed teacups. (I haven’t had my morning cup of anything hot yet this morning, can’t you tell?) I just wouldn’t go in expecting regal elegance, but rather humor, romance, a bit of cheese, and a good time in general.

Recommended For: This is a book I strongly recommend for women. Especially teenage women. I’m not really sure how most men would deal with the very, very feminine styling. But, if you enjoy Princesses, Princes, Court and Regalia, this book might be for you. If you want to escape and get a lot of giggling done in short order, this book may also be for you. This book is suitable for younger audiences. I would consider it a YA that happened to also appeal to adults. I also wouldn’t be alarmed if my five year old got a hold of this book. I’m not sure she would understand it, but there isn’t any content I didn’t view as not safe for kids. IE, there are no sex scenes and the violence isn’t that significant. (Please note: I don’t actually have a five year old, or any child for that matter, but if I did have one, I wouldn’t be ashamed of it lying on the floor where she might pick it up.)

If you’re a fan of the cheesy romance novel (I may fall into this category from time to time) you may also enjoy this book. There is enough romance elements tied in with the fantasy that it will likely appeal to both crowds. If you’re looking for high fantasy, this book likely won’t satisfy. Magic serves as a backdrop, and is very common. As such, people use magic and it is just a part of life. There is very little special about the presence of magic.

I would recommend this book to people who want to explore fantasy for the first time, as well. There are enough similarities to our world that it might be an easier read for those who aren’t used to high epic fantasy or general sword and sorcery. I would call this a fantasy light with lots of romance and leave it at that.

If you decide to read this book, I hope you enjoy it. I know I did! You can purchase the book from here.

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