A Stranger To Command – A prequel to Crown Duel

Book Review : A Stranger To Command
By Sherwood Smith

Spoiler Alert!



This prequel to Crown Duel is about the early life of Vidanric Renselaeus, Marquis of Shevraeth, who as a courtly, well-mannered teen coached in the noble art of dueling, finds himself thrown into the infamous cavalry command academy in Marloven Hess. There, instead of reading theories about statecraft, he is forced to learn about command from the inside–and what it means to be king. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View


I have not read Crown Duel, so this was my first experience meeting the characters and world developed by Sherwood Smith. Crown Duel has been added to my read list!

A Stranger To Command is one of the best “training a young person in the art of fighting” books I have ever read. Shevraeth is completely out of his element and makes many mistakes and doesn’t excel beyond his classmates. Even though he has a natural talent for knife throwing, he works excessively hard to gain competence in other skills such as sword, horseback riding, command and understanding the strangers he lives among.

At times A Stranger To Command is a little slow because the author is so meticulous in the process of Shevraeth’s growth. It is definitely a coming of age novel for our main character and I’m guessing gives those familiar with Crown Duel a thrill to see his background.

I still do not feel familiar with the magic in this world, but am willing to be left in the dark for now because this was a prequel. We are also given a spoonful of information about the surrounding kingdoms. The focus is on the differences of the Marlovens and Shevraeth’s home country. Smith doesn’t use the conventions for society that one is based on Asian culture and another on Europeans and yet, another on Arabians, or some other “exotic” culture. Instead, she employs elements and strict protocols that are pulled from multiple societies to create a new countries social morays. The Marlovens are the “barbarians” who are war-like, their clothes are grey and their buildings are blocky yellowed stones. Remalna’s court politics are just as deadly, but shrouded in silks, fans and poetic words. The people wear fantastic colors, are concerned with their social standing and entertainment believing that they are more civilized than the Marlovens.

This novel is free of cursing, sex and even mostly free of violence. There are two references to pleasure houses, which were quite obscure and there are some men killed later in the book, but their deaths are not described gruesomely. The boys are caned for their misdeeds and one character is fiercely whipped for his poor judgment by their code of ethics. The romances are not a big deal, with just a little kissing.

Smith has chosen difficult names to pronounce to remember that makes reading a little more difficult. A Stranger To Command is complex and fascinating. I look forward to reading more by Sherwood Smith.

4 out of 5 stars

4 star

  • the Mother

If you liked this one you might want to read A Cast of Stones by Patrick W. Carr, The Queen’s Poisoner by Jeff Wheeler and The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner.

A Stranger To Command also reminds me of The Protector of the Small quartet, First Test by Tamora Pierce. Smith includes a lot more depth and philosophy.

About Tales Untangled

I am a mother of four children and have a passion for reading. I love sharing my treasury of books with my kids. I also do experiments in cooking which includes such things as Indian Tandoori Chicken slow-cooked in a tagine. I write stories and illustrate in ink.
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