Book Review: Reader and Raelynx: A Must-Read but Not a Stand-Alone

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Reader and Raelynx is the fourth book in Sharon Shinn’s Twelve Houses series and of the series the least easily read as a stand-alone.  I have now read Reader and Raelynx three times since May 2011, so about once every six months.  That alone should speak to my love for this book.  It is easily one of my favorites in this fantastic series, with really only the third in the series—Dark Moon Defender—giving it any true competition.  (Coincidentally, if you’re looking to begin the series, I read Dark Moon Defender first, as did several of my friends, and while I will not say that the series is best read this way, I will say that you will almost certainly be and are more likely to be hooked by this third book than by books 1 or 2.)

Reader and Raelynx is as pleasurable a third time as it was a second time and a first, even though I’m starting to commit the details to memory, so the surprise and thrill of the unexpected is fading.

This fourth is the book in the series that most deeply concerns my favorite of the six characters that the books primarily follow—Cammon, a scruffy reader who can’t bear to be alone and is always seeking to improve everyone’s lives, often through his strong and deeply mysterious magic.

Sourcebooks’ Deb Werksman, when discussing her criteria for a successful manuscript, mentions that the hero of a romance book must be someone to fall in love with—and Cammon is this, not for everyone, but certainly for me.  I could list reasons—his innocence that experience has been unable to corrupt, his experience that makes him in some way damaged and in need of tending and also makes him more knowledgeable than myself, his ability to know when something is wrong without anyone telling him, his ability to ease pain with a caress….

There is much to love about Sharon Shinn’s series: a coherent and almost gapless fantasy world, extremely strong and likeable characters extending beyond even the six and their lovers.  Many of these more fringe characters—Darryn and Ariane Rappengrass, Sosie, Valri, Baryn, even Lara and Kelti—return to this fourth book.  The series further boasts romance, magic, intrigue, the threat of war, battles, fanatic religious cults, a wealth of gods and goddesses, and tasteful sex scenes.  There is little more that I could ask of the series or Reader and Raelynx in particular,in which all the threats and past dangers come to a head in several days of bloody battle.

I have few complaints either with Shinn’s language, which is nicely balanced between poetic and concise.  Shinn demonstrates prowess with prose and dialogue, stillness and action, violence and sweetness.

If I can complain about anything it’s that even as the series comes to a close with the fifth book, there are loose ends:  Some characters whose fates I’d like to learn don’t return to the story after they’ve fulfilled their initial role.  I still don’t fully understand Shinn’s magic system, though I don’t believe that the characters do either.  As a writer I’m a little miffed by Shinn’s incomprehension of her own system as much as I may love (and I do love) what I understand of that system.

*****

Shinn, Sharon.  The Twelve Houses Series, Book Four: Reader and Raelynx.  New York: Ace-Berkley-Penguin, 2007.

This review is not endorsed by Sharon Shinn, Ace Books, Berkley Publishing Group, or Penguin Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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