Saturday, August 9, 2008

Fan-Girl Time: Sherwood Smith

There are a few authors whose blogs, websites, and other resources I check regularly for posts by the authors, commentary by readers and information on upcoming books. They are: Patricia Briggs, Nalini Singh, Robin D. Owens, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Linnea Sinclair, and Lois McMaster Bujold. I even belong to listservs for some authors. I note however that the only two children's or YA authors that I religiously follow are Diana Wynne Jones and Sherwood Smith.

I fell in love with Sherwood Smith recently. Years ago I bought and read her Wren books, and I enjoyed them. Then a year or so ago I stumbled across Crown Duel. It is a two book in one reprint of Crown Duel and Court Duel, with some corrections and revisions. I have to admit here that when I pick up the duology to reread, I reread Court Duel. The first book doesn't pull me in but the courtship dance between Meliara and Shevraeth in the second book always draws this eternal romantic back in. This is a YA set in a world with tree people and some magic, but the focus is politics and political intrigue, rebellion, war, and the victory of good people. At some point I found out Sherwood Smith had a website and some stories up on that website. In her bibliography she listed more books, including Inda, an adult fantasy set in the same world, Sartorias-deles, as Crown Duel, only centuries earlier. Off I went to the book store. I gobbled up that book then began buying and downloading all available Sherwood Smith books I could get my hands on.

As a historian, what enchants me about these books is the sense of history and place. She has been writing stories set in this world since she was eight years old, i.e. for nearly 50 years and the depth and richness of her knowledge of this world and its thousands of years of history gleams throughout her books. She contributes regular comments, hints and stories about her characters and world to the Athanarel board. The stories are found in archived posts here (warning: you will have to join LiveJournal and Athanarel in order to read them, but they are worth it!). Sherwood Smith's fans have put together a Wiki for her world, Sartorias-deles, that is well-worth exploring though full of spoilers.

For years she has not found much of a market for her work but suddenly this year are available in the bookstores, the adult fantasy books The Fox and King's Shield, sequels to Inda. The fourth and last book is due out next year from DAW, Treason's Shore. Available online from Samhain Publishing are YA books, Once a Princess and Twice a Prince. They are available as ebooks and will be out in paper next year. I generally do not read ebooks but for Sherwood Smith, I went and downloaded them. Just out in print, also from Samhain, is The Trouble With Kings. Another press, Norilana Books has published A Posse of Princesses, which is set in the world of the Wren books (note to self, need to find my copies!) and A Stranger to Command in hardback. Other books are available from Norilana or through Internet booksellers. A full bibliography is here.

Now, for a newcomer to Sherwood Smith, I think I would recommend reading Crown Duel first then its prequel A Stranger to Command. Both are wonderful stories with very real characters with thoughts, emotions and reactions to complicated life situations in the midst of political events all around them. And yes, the main characters are teenagers and very realistic teenagers at that. Even the Inda books center around teenagers. Sherwood Smith understands people at all stages of life and conveys their thoughts, emotions and reactions believably. Add to this an incredibly complex world with villains, heroes, ordinary people, all of whom might be good or bad at different times and have their reasons for what they do to other people. Oh, just go pick up one of her books and start reading!