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.