Sherwood Smith established herself on my favorite authors list with her book, "Crown Duel." So of course I had to read "A Stranger to Command," which gives readers more insight into Vidanric, the Marquis of Shevraeth, one of the protagonists from "Crown Duel."
"A Stranger to Command" follows Vidanric (re-named Shevraeth after his title) as he goes to faraway country Marloven Hess to their famed military academy at age 15. Over the next few years, he goes from being the newbie outsider to someone respected and admired by everyone at the academy, including the country's king, Senrid, as he learns how to become a leader. Meanwhile, events back home are taking a sinister turn as King Galdran goes from being a paranoid ruler to a complete despot.
Sherwood Smith is great at world-building and characterization, and "A Stranger to Command" is typical of her style. Vidanric doesn't really have many character lessons to learn (unlike his future wife Mel in "Crown Duel") but he does have to learn how to fit in. In some respects, Vidanric is a little too perfect, since he doesn't seem to make many missteps as he grows in military command at the academy.
There are only a few issues I have with this book, and they're pretty minor if you're already a Sherwood Smith fan. For one thing, I think she assumes that we're already familiar with her characters' world, and doesn't really explain the hand modes (something from Vidanric's country). It didn't bother me, since I had already read "Crown Duel," but if you're reading these books in chronological order, it might be confusing. There are also some tense situations that are never really resolved, such as the Norsundrian invasion at the end.
While this book is fine as a standalone, I actually recommend reading it as a sequel to "Crown Duel" instead of in chronological order. Not only are the customs explained in more detail, but for me it was nicer to learn Vidanric's history after I had already fallen in love with the other book. I don't think I would have enjoyed it as much the other way around. Definitely a must read.