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A Stranger to Command    by Sherwood Smith order for
Stranger to Command
by Sherwood Smith
Order:  USA  Can
Norilana, 2008 (2008)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

A Stranger to Command is an engaging prequel to Sherwood Smith's excellent and fast-paced Crown Duel duo. It reveals the early life of one of the latter's protagonists, Vidanric Renselaeus, Marquis of Shevraeth. To save him from the risk of assassination by Remalna's King Galdran, his father sends Vidanric in secret to train at the military academy in Marloven Hess (also familiar to readers of Smith's outstanding Inda adult fantasy series).

In Marloven Hess, our fifteen-year-old hero (who is a descendant of the Marloven royal family) becomes a stranger in a land whose customs and unwritten rules take time to decypher. Confusing his name and title, they call him Shevraeth. Despite cultural misunderstandings and bullying, he gradually makes his way, learns military skills, and earns the respect of his peers and of young king Senrid, who teaches him to think strategically. He also keeps his word to his mother, who made him promise to perform an act of kindness at least once a week. And he slowly falls in love with Senelac, who helps him and trains him to ride. She develops strong feelings for Shevraeth but also for another.

When Marloven Hess is threatened by powerful, magical Norsunder, Senrid prepares for all contingencies, and when the threat materializes, he sends Shevraeth back to his homeland. There, Shevraeth must pose (in the style of Zorro or The Scarlet Pimpernel) as a fashion-obsessed scion of nobility, while fending off assassination attempts - and so hide from the king in plain sight. The story ends as Shevraeth's cousin predicts his falling for a military girl with 'a rep for slaying her enemies all on her own, barehanded, before breakfast', so setting the stage perfectly for Crown Duel.

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