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The Meld Novels by Sherwood Smith
Wren to the Rescue, Wren's Quest, Wren's War, Crown Duel and Court Duel
Published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
Reviewers, teachers and parents everywhere have been complaining loudly and harshly about the apparent lack of quality fantasy fiction for young people, and particularly for young girls. However, it may be that they have simply failed to look far enough. Sherwood Smith may well be one of the most overlooked and under-appreciated writers of the last decade of the twentieth century.
In these five books, set in the world of Meld, Sherwood Smith gives us everything a young girl could want in a fantasy. There are spunky, intelligent heroines who get to have adventures and don't always have to be rescued by the handsome prince. There are dastardly villains, powerful magics and royal palaces. And of course, there is plenty of action and more than enough chances for young people to make a difference.
Adults will also find plenty to praise in these stories. They are well written, with thoughtful plots and complex characters. Morality, honesty and faithfulness are important in the world of Meld, and the characters (and through them, the reader) learn important lessons about such issues as the proper use of power, all without any overt lecturing on the author's part.
The Wren trilogy are all three set in the kingdom of Cantirmoor. They concern Wren, an orphaned girl who befriended a princess who was being hidden in the same orphanage.
Wren to the Rescue introduces Wren at the moment she makes an astonishing discovery. Her friend Tess, who had always seemed to be another orphan like herself, is actually a princess. She has been hidden away for her own safety because King Andreus, the wicked sorcerer monarch of a nearby kingdom, had sworn revenge on her father. However, Tess' parents now think it is safe for her to return to the capital, and they have given her the privelege of taking one friend with her.
When Mistress Leila takes the two girls to the royal palace, Wren memorizes her words and gestures. Later Wren tries to imitate them and reveals an unrealized magical ability. However, she gets little time to explore her new-found talent, for King Andreus chooses that moment to strike.
An ensorcelled Tess vanishes off to King Andreus' nasty realm, and Wren fears that she will be sent right back to the orphanage. Determined not to let that happen, she teams up with two young boys at the palace in a desperate attempt to rescue the princess.
In the process, one of the boys turns Wren into a dog, and she nearly loses her humanity before she can be restored to her proper form. However, they finally locate Tess and return her safely to the palace. As a reward, Wren will not have to go back to the orphanage, but may remain in the capital and study magic.
The story continues in Wren's Quest. When this book opens, Wren is studying magic in the royal Magic School. She is about to embark on a trip to discover her lost origins and heritage.
But it turns out that the evil King Andreus is still plotting to disrupt their peaceful nation. In particular, he wants to take his revenge against Wren for ruining his earlier attempts to kidnap Princess Tess.
Wren's trip turns into a terrified flight from enemies posing as a member of a friend's guard. But Wren finally does discover that she is the daughter of an inkeeper in the distant city of Kiel (a number of geographical names come from European geography).
A long journey takes her to meet her aunt, who runs the Three Badgers inn. From this woman Wren hears the story of her parents. Wren then relinquishes her claim on the inn to her aunt and returns to the castle and her lessons in the Magic School.
Wren's story concludes with Wren's War. When the evil sorceror-king Andreus invades their home and murders the kindly King and Queen, Wren and her friends must find some way to repell the invasion while combatting the intrigues of the selfish Duke Fortian at home.
Wren is away visiting her aunt at the Three Badgers inn in Kiel at the time. She nearly fails to get the "emergency" signal because she isn't in the habit of wearing rings. Therefore, the magic signal ring that her friends gave her to warn her of danger sits unheeded for several days. When Wren does discover the situation, she hurries back to Cantirmoor to help her friends.
Princess Teressa, is now the new ruling queen and must learn to rule the kingdom while dealing with her own grief and all this fighting. She must also convince her various adult subjects that she is indeed competent to rule and does not need to be led about by the hand.
One of Wren's old friends from the Magic School has entered King Andreus' castle as a spy. However, he has unwittingly triggered a particularly nasty bit of magic that held him prisoner. Wren seeks to rescue him, and uses a magic amulet to take the form of a bird and fly into the darkened kingdom.
In the process she winds up overthrowing King Andreus and destroying the sorcerous barriers he placed around his country. This causes a major earthquake in that area, but it is for the better, and even the people of the land agree that they have gone too long under his unjust rule.
The Crown and Court Duet take place in another part of Meld, far away from Cantirmoor. These two books were originally written as a single novel, but were divided for the young-adult market. They are best enjoyed when read together.
Crown Duel begins the story Mel and Bran, two young children of a nobleman who have sworn to lead a revolution against the evil, power-hungry king of Remalna. However they are dreadfully naive and unprepared, and Mel gets herself captured by the king's forces shortly after they begin the revolt.
From there she has a series of harrowing escapes and recaptures. Once she is even taken to the court of the evil king, where she is slated for execution. However, a trusty old family retainer helps her make good her escape from the dungeon.
Mel then goes on a mad flight across the countryside, hobbling on a half-healed foot and growing sicker all the time. She is nursed back to health for a while by a family of common folk, at great risk. She leaves as quickly as she dares, now realizing how her own fight for justice has ended up creating injustice for the ordinary folk.
Just as she is about to rejoin her people, the evil king's worst bully-boy captures her. She is steeling herself to endure sadistic torture when she is suddenly rescued and whisked away.
Mel finally discovers that one of her apparent enemies is actually the perpetrator of an older and far more sophisticated plot to overthrow the wicked king. Mel and her brother join forces with the Duke of Shevraeth and in the end they have a climactic battle in which the king is slain. Then Mel flees back to the ancestral castle, longing for the refuge of the simple life.
Mel's story contines in Court Duel. Far too many novels end with the overthrow of the tyrant. Sherwood Smith takes us through the next step -- setting up a workable government.
The second installment of the Crown and Court Duet opens with Mel back at her ancestral castle. She has not been idle in the months since she helped overthrow the wicked king. Rather she has been busy using the settlement money to refurbish her castle in preparation for her brother's return.
However, Bran has a new surprise for Mel. He is going to be wed, and has brought his fiancee along with him. Mel feels clumsy and stupid in comparison with the courtly Nee.
Although they could easily have been enemies, Nee offers to teach Mel in the ways of courtly behavior. She encounters her old rival, the Duke of Shevraeth, who challenges her to a race. The prize is to be a kiss, but when he wins, he chooses to claim it later.
At court, Mel lands smack in the midst of an intricate web of intrigue. A few missteps teach her that she still has a great deal to learn about court life. However, she decides not to snub one courtier who deliberately sought to entrap her. Instead, Mel deliberately seeks to make a friend of this woman.
In the end, Mel discovers that the old king's family still have designs on the throne. With the help of Vidanric, Duke of Shevraeth, she helps to foil their plot to slaughter the mysterious Hill Folk (a people rather like dryads). In return, the Hill Folk help her to stop the sorcerous plot of the beautiful but wicked Flauvic.
In that moment, she realizes that her pride has made her blind to her growing love for Vidanric. They are wed and become th new king and Queen of Remalna.
In these books you will find places and people you will want to visit again and again -- and share with your friends. Consider using Amazon.com's gift shipping options to share the wonder of these books with the young people in your life.
Click here to go to the publisher-out-of-stock page Click here to have Amazon.com search for a copy of Wren to the Rescue
(Unfortunately this title is currently out of print, but if you visit the publisher-out-of-stock page for it enough, it might trigger a reprint).
Click to buy Wren's Quest
Click to buy Wren's War
Click to buy Crown Duel
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Review posted December 16, 1998
Updated May 19, 1999