Round 2, Match 1: Crown Duel vs. First & Then

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Judged by Katie • Find her on Goodreads


Confession: I didn’t really want to re-read either of these books. I like them both, but I’ve already read them and there are so many books out there competing for my attention! But I also didn’t want to judge them without re-reading them, especially as I had no idea which book I was going to choose. Fortunately, I did enjoy my re-reads! And I’m finding my decision both surprising and surprisingly easy.

You see, I think both books are rather messy with flashes of brilliance. Like a lot of my friends, I really struggled with the first half of Crown Duel only to fall in love with the second half. And First & Then feels a little incomplete, but wow, does it pack some emotional punches.

So that’s where I was at heading into my re-reads.

I re-read Crown Duel first and the first half of the first half (I could say “first quarter” but that actually feels less clear!) worked better for me, but I grew pretty impatient with Mel as the first half went on. She’s so misguided and stubborn. And, sure, I can appreciate that in an intellectual way, but my life is kind of stressful right now, and I just wanted to get to the fun romance!

And then I did! I prefer the court setting of the second half. I’d be all for more fantasies than are about court, not battle. And I like how determined Mel is to improve herself and figure out what’s right. And, of course, the courtship by letters.

However, I could’ve done without the plotty aspects. I had to go back and re-read (re-re-read?) some of the ending because my brain isn’t up to following much right now (on the plus side, I also got to re-read the ring reveal twice!). It was hard to follow who was involved in which plot to take the crown and what exactly said plot involved.

By contrast, First & Then was such an easy, breezy re-read. Some of what bothered me on my first read didn’t bother me this time through, particularly the constant Jane Austen references at the beginning. (There is a whole lot of “if this were Jane’s time…”) Devon referring to the freshman as “prostitots” still makes me cringe a lot, but at least she seems to somewhat learn her lesson.

And, you know, as much as I’m sad that there are so many unexplored stories here (Marabella! Emir! Rachel!), I will GLADLY take that over the bland minor characters that populate most books. (Crown Duel, let me take a moment to say, does not fall into this category. However, some of its most minor characters did blur for me a bit.) Everyone feels like a real, distinct person. And then there’s Ezra. Wonderful, misunderstood Ezra. And Foster being so wonderfully himself and he and Devon forming a real, loving, realistic relationship.

And, oh, the moments of brilliance in this book. Ezra’s counting to 300 is something that’s really stuck with me. And all the people who showed up at the end! It reminded me of how wonderful people really can be.

In short, First & Then was the book I needed to read right now. I don’t think I would pick it against Crown Duel every time. In general, I love fantasy more than contemporary fiction, but at this particular point in my life, the political maneuvering and plottiness of Crown Duel were a little too much for my poor overworked brain. First & Then is a simple story in a lot of ways, which makes it easy to follow. Add that to the compelling characters, and it drew me in and let me forget about my life for a little bit. And that counts for a lot.


Congratulations to First & Then, which moves on to round 3!

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20 thoughts on “Round 2, Match 1: Crown Duel vs. First & Then

  1. I pretty much agree with everything you said, yet I was never going to be happy with the outcome of this battle, no matter which book you ended up choosing. Because now I kind of love them both, and they both should’ve won, okay? (I say this, not having read half the other books that were in the first round, ahem.)

    BUT VIDANRIC THOUGH. I am sad because now Vidanric is out. (But yay Ezra!) You see my dilemma :p I also tend to like YA fantasy more than contemporary, so the fact that I loved First & Then so much really surprised me.

    Ezra’s counting to 300 is something that’s really stuck with me.

    Yes! I’ve actually found myself doing this at work a few times since, when I’m having a particularly rough day (i.e. at least every other day) and it helps! I don’t count to 300, but still.

      1. Totally. And at the same time I want to be perverse and play devil’s advocate and say that it’s unrealistic of her to be a) perfect or b) flawed in a way I’m fully comfortable with?

        Yeah, I debated that with myself, too. Where’s the line between realism and books reflecting the way the world SHOULD be?

        TRUE. Of course, sometimes messy books end up being so annoying they’re the opposite of an escape!

        1. I think First & Then is as successful as it is because it’s pretty good at toeing that line!

          OH YEAH. That’s the most common sort, I think 🙂

  2. I AM KIND OF UNHAPPY, TOO. My first reaction when this went up was a pang of sadness for Crown Duel. HOW COULD I DO SUCH A TERRIBLE THING?

    It’s a really good way of just giving your brain a break.

    1. Because obviously you are a terrible person. (EXCEPT NOT REALLY OF COURSE)

      Plus, I completely understand being/not being in the mood for a certain book. It can often twist my objectivity/enjoyment of a book as well. And if I had had to choose between these two books, I would’ve gone on strike claiming it could not be done, so I applaud you for being stronger than I would be.

      1. And you just know we’d be having the same conversation if I DID pick Crown Duel!

        Haha, well, I wanted to keep Beth’s friendship. 😉 And yeah! It was kind of a good reminder, really. I had some heavier books checked out from the library and went ahead and returned them because I don’t think they would work for me right now.

  3. It’s so funny how two books that are so different could be so hard to choose between, isn’t it? But YES.

    Devon referring to the freshman as “prostitots” still makes me cringe a lot, but at least she seems to somewhat learn her lesson.

    Totally. And at the same time I want to be perverse and play devil’s advocate and say that it’s unrealistic of her to be a) perfect or b) flawed in a way I’m fully comfortable with? I’m sort of glad that she’s messy, and that her story’s messy, too.

    And it’s also funny that a messy book could also be simple – and an escape.

  4. I shall obviously have to read First & Then. I was surprised, because I expected Crown Duel to breeze through to the final, but I totally “get” how sometimes a book just hits you the right way, or doesn’t, at a particular time. For example, I was left completely unmoved the first time I read The Riddle Master of Hed, then I read the second one and the first one again and then the Riddle Master trilogy became one of those essential sets of books that you read every year for a decade. But who knows what I’d think if I read them now?

    But the fact that all of you speak so highly of First & Then makes me want to read it.

    1. Ha! Maybe I’ll have to try Riddle Master again someday then, as it was a miss for me! (I read it for the first time for the battle . . . last year? Two years ago?)

      I really was surprised at my decision, too. I think if you grabbed the me who read Crown Duel for the first time and the me who read First & Then for the time and made them come to a decision . . . it would’ve been Crown Duel. But, alas for Crown Duel, that’s not what the me of now thanks.

      And here’s where all warn you not to have TOO high of expectations. 🙂

  5. I must read First & Then as well. And I have the same feeling about my own bracket – almosta kind of guilt now for having chosen Jellicoe, because I wanted Life to win as well, and because in a different mood or at a different time, I might have chosen differently.

      1. My reading comprehension is kinda terrible right now (it’s been a long week) because I honestly have NO IDEA WHAT THIS MEANS. Oh dear. How’s that different than what we did this year?

        1. I mean, all the losers from just this year face each other! So like my round would’ve been Binny in Secret vs Drawing the Ocean.

          Which still doesn’t help poor Crown Duel, so the problem with comprehension might not be on your end. 😉

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