There's a lot to like about Once a Princess. From the product description, "Warning: This title contains a kick-butt mother-daughter team, a wicked king, a witty pirate with an unfortunate taste for neon colors, inept resistance fighters, a dreamy prince who gallops earnestly hither and yon, and a kick-butt princess in waiting." I hear kick-butt princesses are all the rage these days :-)
Sasha and her mother Sun fled from the world of Sartorias-deles when Sasha's father was driven into hiding when Canardan Merindar usurped the throne. Sasha is living in LA when men from her former world come looking for her. She soon returns to Sartorias-deles and is swept up in the resistance as the ally? prisoner? of the sexy but fashion-challenged pirate Zathdar. Sun follows, looking for her daughter, and ends up in the hands of Merindar. Politics, intrigue, fighting, and romance all ensue.
Sherwood Smith's books blow my mind for the sheer world-building that goes into them. Check out the Sartorias-deles wiki. I'm awed by the amount of time and work Smith has spent developing this world and its history, the races and the individual characters, the magic and the cosmology. It's Tolkienesque in scale, but written in a more accessible voice.
This has advantages and disadvantages both. On the one hand, there were times I felt like I was missing some of the larger picture. On the other, Smith has created a world you can dive into as deeply as you choose, and stay there as long as you'd like. As I read, I kept coming back to how ambitious her work feels, each book adding another piece to her overall body of work to build this world. The story works wonderfully on its own, but it feels more ... solid than most. Smith has been developing this world since she was eight years old. It feels like you could go into any building, look behind any tree, and the author knows exactly what's there. (As opposed to some books, where you see the Hollywood-style facade if you stop to look at anything too closely.)
Back to this particular book, it's a fun read. Sasha and Zathdar were my favorites, with plenty of good banter and tension between them. Prince Jehan, son of Merindar, is a fun character as well, once you start to learn more about him. I didn't get as much of a sense as Sun, but she's as strong and determined as her daughter, just in a different arena. (Politics and intrigue as opposed to fighting and running about.) Actually, there's a nice range of strong female characters in this one.
Once a Princess comes out in paperback next week. (It's already available from Samhain as an e-book, though.) The paperback of book two follows in early May. So I'm not sure how many folks will have read these yet, but I know Smith has a good number of fans, so I'd love to hear what people think of her work in general.
Smith has a blog at sartorias which is also worth reading, with some of the most thoughtful posts and discussions you'll find on LJ.