Dark Moon Defender, third in Sharon Shinn’s The Twelve Houses series, is well written, its characters rounded and alive, its world expansive and deep, the cultures and religions and worldviews diverse and detailed, but when I tried first to write a review of this book based on those merits, I couldn’t find much else to say.
Sometimes the real value of a book is nostalgia, the times that it recalls, the friends with whom it is connected.
Such may be the case for me for Dark Moon Defender. This was the first of the series that I ever read, a recommendation from Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master when we were still college kids. It was then passed around a group of us.
When I first read the series, I’d have said that Dark Moon Defender was my second favorite after the fourth and climax, Reader and Raelynx. I hadn’t read it since.
Rereading Dark Moon Defender was like meeting a friend again—a friend introduced to me by friends and with whom I share friends, none of whom I’ve seen face-to-face in too long. It reminded me of all of those friends.
But since we last had seen one another, we’d grown apart a bit—Dark Moon Defender and I. Life happened. And while I enjoyed rereading the book, preferred it to other books that I had been reading, it was not the same book that I remembered—or I wasn’t the same person who had read it those few years ago.
Perhaps in some ways it is because of what this series means to me that this book did not sink as deeply into my heart this time around. This series—for all its many strengths—I like perhaps best because of the incredibly strong and warm friendships between the six main protagonists—a friendship that in some ways echoes that which I share with the friends with whom I first read the book. But the friends in this book are separated—not indefinitely but for large portions of the book. I found myself enjoying the book best when at least two of the friends were together.
Though I think Shinn would say that these books are meant as romances, the romances are just not as moving to me as are the friendships or as exciting as the overarching series plot of treason and war.
The Thirteenth House, second in the series, I realized this previous read-through is more bildungsroman than romance. When I read it as a bildungsroman, I liked it much better than when I had read it as a romance. It has perhaps even surmounted Dark Moon Defender in the ranking of favorites. I suppose there is an aspect of bildungsroman in Dark Moon Defender if one assumes that a healthy marriage is a necessary step in growing up—which I’m not sure that I do, though certainly it can be a step in some people’s journey. I feel though that most of Justin’s growth and education had occurred prior to this book and would classify this more as a romance than any other genre.
Maybe I enjoyed Dark Moon Defender so well the first time through partially because I had not read the others and did not know what Shinn was capable of and so was able to enjoy it as a straight romance, expecting nothing else.
If Dark Moon Defender is read primarily as a romance then it has to be noted too that while Justin is, I know, the ideal hero to some, he is not the type of hero to whom I am immediately attracted, and because the story is primarily a romance, I think my “type” hindered my enjoyment of the story. I like adorkable and cute and brainy more than I like brawny, dutiful soldiers. My preference makes Justin no less of a wonderful character and no less loveable.
Perhaps because I was more apart from the world and the characters than I had been during any other reading of one of Shinn’s books, I found myself stumbling a few too many times on Shinn’s flowery prose—a strange critique from me (my own prose has received the same critique on many occasions). Sometimes “said” really is the best verb.
Shinn, Sharon. The Twelve Houses, Book 3: Dark Moon Defender. New York: ACE-Berkley-Penguin, 2006.
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.