Tag Archives: sword and sorcery

Book Review: Mystic and Rider: Internal and External Journeys as Foreground

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I hadn’t read Sharon Shinn’s Mystic and Rider for four years. I’d reread all the other books in the Twelve Houses series at least once before returning to this first book. There’s much to draw me to the Twelve Houses books as I’ve discussed before, but there is something especially compelling to me about the deep friendships between the six primary protagonists. In this first book, those friendships remain unformed for the majority of the book, the six are instead plagued by prejudiced distrust and several brief fights that must be broken up by more level-headed and duty-driven members of the group. It was interesting to revisit this time before their friendship because I had foreknowledge; I know how inseparable this unlikely group becomes. More than that, I know the trials that they will face in the future, and I can see the foreshadowing in their dialogues. I enjoyed laughing and mumbling, “Oh honey, you don’t even know.” I can also enjoy a writer who foreshadows because it shows a plan and it shows forethought (usually).

The exterior action of the plot is concerned with assessing the attitudes of various regions and ranks of a kingdom. The worldviews of a society are the sort of detail that is usually relegated to an emblematic scene or a throwaway line of dialogue or exposition. It’s impressive to see Shinn maintain the readers’ interest in what is so often so condensed and shoved to the background by other writers.

Granted, Shinn supports this plot with a romantic co-plot and the drama of six diverse personalities in prolonged, close quarters.

I think Shinn does a good job of integrating these the internal and external plots so that neither seems to take precedence over the other. It could be read with either or neither as the primary focus.

Shinn also adds a bit of mystery by concealing one character’s background in particular and having another spend the book not trusting her because of that concealment. I never read the story without knowing Senneth’s story, having read the third book in the series first. I suspect though that that mystery helps too to drive the reader through the story.

Shinn writes fantastic characters, all invoking a great deal of empathy. She writes a fantastic, vast, and vivid world. If you haven’t yet been intrigued by my earlier reviews of these books, I advertise them one last time. Beyond this, there are no more books in the series for me to review, so this will be the last you’ll hear of them from me for a while. If you like high fantasy; poetic, solid prose; empathetic characters and stories of close friendships; if you like fantastical romance; if you enjoy a little politics and intrigue and fantastical religion, give these a try.

I’ve grown a bit with these books, and as I’ve grown, I see them differently, but they are only a bit tarnished for being away from a circle of friend and fellow fans. My rankings of them fluctuate a bit with my circumstances. What once I liked least, I think I now like almost best. And these books set the bar for fictional boyfriends very high. I’m glad that I have these books as warm friends’ smiles in my bookcases, and I considering purchasing the series a solid investment for all the times I will pick them up to smile over a scene or ask Shinn’s advice on worldbuilding.

****

Shinn, Sharon. The Twelve Houses, Book 1: Mystic and Rider. New York: Ace-Berkley-Penguin, 2005.

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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Book Review: Dark Moon Defender: Rereads and the Effects of Nostalgia

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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.

Challenge: Legal Theft: Another’s Daughter (567 words)

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It was strange, but all Charlotte wanted to do was warn Michelle. Charlotte had helped Xander formulate the plan. She knew what was supposed to happen, and she had been as eager as he to watch Charlotte fall, to finally have her at a disadvantage, to be able to disarm and then disable her and then disembowel her.

Charlotte could see it happening, her eyes following the paths that the blades would take as they crossed and the footwork of the fighters. She could see it playing out just as she and Xander had planned. Xander fought as if he were being beaten back while casually, subtly retreating, drawing Michelle forward where he wanted her to go. Michelle was following him, thrusting to chase him backward.

Michelle fought with the confidence that ought to have been her due. What could the bronze blade that Xander wielded do but follow in the wake of the Charlotte’s steel, as fire followed lightning and could not come before it? Perhaps it was that: her strength, her confidence, her surety that had somehow softened Charlotte’s heart towards the doomed warrior. Perhaps it was that she was doomed and that that feeling Charlotte knew—all Tilians knew in the speed and sharpness of the Aloalindans’ steel.

Michelle’s doom was as palpable to Charlotte now as Ava’s had been when Charlotte had heard of her fight with Timor, as when news came that Ryder had fought Inga, as when Charlotte had heard that her own little Magdalena’s had tested her bronze blade against Michelle’s steel.

The thought of Magdalena and how the blade had plunged into her heart with all the speed of lightning ripping through the air, still echoed like steel and bronze through Charlotte’s body, a gaping wound that opened again with the faintest tug of memory, and left Charlotte ill, her body aching.

Now she looked on Michelle as she had looked on Magdalena so often. Their blades may be of opposing colors, but they braided the dark hair the same shade, that contrasted as sharply against pale skin and chiseled features. They shared the same fierceness.

Charlotte had not been there when Magdalena had fought—she had only found her afterward—but Magdalena had always worn her ferocity on her face as she practiced, had swung her sword as if each thrust brought down an Aloalindan.

Michelle wore her ferocity now. Looking at Michelle now Charlotte saw her Magdalena.

Michelle was someone’s Magdalena.

Michelle was someone’s Magdalena, and suddenly Charlotte could not watch her be cut down by Xander, by a doom that Charlotte had helped to create.

The cry tore from her, not even an articulate cry, but enough to draw Michelle’s attention to Charlotte, for Charlotte to see the army ranged against her and the bronze net that the Tilians had fashioned for her, her end of which Charlotte dropped.

It was enough to make Michelle’s ferocity waver to doubt.

It was enough for Xander to strike her a blow he could not otherwise have landed, a sharp stab that drove into the chink of her armor below the shoulder blade, to draw blood from beneath her sleeve.

But it was enough that as Michelle cried out, and her hand flew to staunch the wound to her arm, she turned, and she fled the trap, and though Xander pursued, Charlotte knew that he would not catch her.

I am a thief! I stole that first line from Bek of BuildingADoor. Check out her blog for the original story, “Warning Signs.”

I’m not sure where the line of creative property falls when it comes to name generators, but lest I tread on any toes, thanks to NameGenerator.biz for providing the names of the two races—or of the kingdoms from which the races hailed.

Book Review: The Thirteenth House Is the Least of The Twelve Houses

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Sharon Shinn’s stellar writing, wonderful world-building, and charismatic characters have secured her Twelve Houses series a place on my list of favorite series. Of the five books, my least favorite is the second, The Thirteenth House. The first four of these sword and sorceries each revolve around the romances of one or more of the six main characters (the fifth revolves around a minor character from the first four). The Thirteenth House is the story of Kirra Danalustrous, a shiftling (a mystic with the ability to change the shape of herself and of objects that she touches) and serramarra (daughter) of one of the twelve main houses between which the country of Gillengaria is feudally divided. I like this story least frankly because Kirra disappoints me and frightens me. This time, reading the book, I realized that Kirra and I are the same age, and it worries me that someone my age (albeit that I’m sure the life expectancy is lower in medieval-esque Gillengaria and characters mature more quickly as a consequence) could make the poor choices that Kirra does. Each romance in this series is an unlikely pairing but the other matches are unlikely because of class distinctions or cultural differences, Kirra’s romance is a likely match a few years too late that is now just an unhealthy affair, so while all the elements of a romance novel are there, there can be no happy ending for all, and that’s also unsettling, another reason that this novel is my least favorite. Kirra grows a great deal through the story, and that is heartwarming, but her growth comes at the cost of a lot of heartache for herself and others. This is more bildungsroman than it is romance in the sense of genre. I’d have liked Kirra to make better decisions.

Alongside the whirlwind affair, Shinn presents a country on the brink of turmoil. Amid swirling gowns and in grand ballrooms, beside talk of marriage alliances, every character discusses war and whom they might side with. The king’s regent, Romar Brendyn, comes under attack, is rescued, and despite continued threats to his person proceeds to attend secret negotiations and politically fraught parties with lesser lords, collectively known as the Thirteenth House. Meanwhile a plague sweeps through the country that cannot be cured except by breaking the unwritten laws that curb magic.

These many plots are fairly well woven together by Shinn.

I admire Shinn’s world-building particularly. There are several religious factions among the people of Gillengaria and each goddess has a unique sphere of influence and unique abilities that they can grant the mystics under their particular care. I really do think that a strong and unique religion can add a great deal to any story.

For being my least favorite, this is more than a bridge book, and it has merit in its own right.

As one wise reviewer on Goodreads has said, I won’t condemn the book for the adultery of its protagonists.  I won’t cheer their choices, but I choose to see this as a bildungsroman rather than a romance.  So just don’t expect the fairy tale ending; it’s not a fairy tale for all that her lover is painted by Kirra as a white knight or a Prince Charming.  Kirra is not the princess.

****

Shinn, Sharon. The Twelve Houses, Book Two: The Thirteenth House. New York: Ace-Berkley-Penguin, 2007.  First published 2006.

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

Book Review: A Feast for Crows is Rations for a Reader

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I read George R. R. Martin’s A Feast For Crows, fourth in A Song of Ice and Fire, for half a year, starting it in June and not finishing it till late December.  Granted, it is 976 pages, but that is still a relatively slow pace of some 160 pages per month on average, less than 5 pages a day—and I know that there were months where I read less and months where I read more.  This is the first of Martin’s books that I have read in absence of fans.  The other three I had read with coworkers there to rant to and whom would commiserate with me, and I was in an unspoken competition with one to see who could finish the series first (I lost that race miserably).  This is—and I was thankfully warned by these same fans—a bridge book between the stories of most of our more beloved and enjoyed heroes and heroines—which is not to say that all of them were absent, and I made some new friends—or characters with whom I expect to be friends until their likely untimely deaths.

For all that we—that is to say the Internet—prod Martin for killing all of our friends, death within A Song of Ice and Fire is becoming as uncertain an end as it is in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alias, or Doctor Who.  That had begun in A Storm of Swords—if we call the White Walkers alive and not reanimated, then even within the first prologue of A Game of Thrones—you tricky man, Martin, with your foreshadowing and early reassurance that we neglected to notice while we thought you were shredding our hearts with your character deaths.  I had been almost pleased to read a series, however, with the author killed characters with so little regard for the hearts of his readers, with the realism and senselessness of war, and I find myself almost disappointed with this new development—more so because of all of the gods to have power to resurrect, the god that seems to have power to do so is not the one I would follow, nor the one that I would most entrust with the ruling of Westeros.  All this being said, I still feel a prickle of fear for one of the heroines I had most liked in Westeros, even despite the Internet-researched assurances of friends.

This book sailed a ship for me, and with the assurances that A Dance with Dragons would return me to my favorite characters, kept me sloughing through the pages.  My ships have slowly been destroyed by canon, and I have but one left standing and that only if those Internet-researched assurances are not red herrings put onto the Internet by fans.

The book started out very well by introducing me to a new hero that I quickly liked.  [SPOILER] I should have known better because the prologue ended with his death. [END SPOILER]  What slowed me after that, I cannot rightly say, though as I have said, it likely had something to do with the absence of Dany, Jon, and Tyrion, and I know too that I was slowed because there are times that I just want to read something lighter than A Song of Ice and Fire, something that involves less death, less darkness, less explicit sex and violence.

Overall, this will never be my favorite of Martin’s books, though I did enjoy early in the book learning about the culture of the Iron Islands and the Sand Snakes have potential to skyrocket to being my favorite of Martin’s characters.

**3/4

Martin, George R. R.  A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4: A Feast for Crows.  New York: Bantam-Random, 2005.

This review is not endorsed by George R. R. Martin, Bantam Books, or Random House, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: A Storm of Swords’ Charged Questions

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Click to visit the publisher's site, for links to purchase, synopsis, excerpt, author info, and reviews.

Though A Storm of Swords, where finally some of the unanswered queries of A Game of Thrones are answered, is the longest book of George R. R. Martin’s that I’ve yet read, I feel like this book more than it predecessors in A Song of Ice and Fire, A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings, was missing important scenes.  Martin would show me what had happened somewhere then have someone explain it after the fact.  I’m not sure if I appreciate this tactic.  While it’s nice to be surprised, the questions like “What did you say to get him to agree to this?” go unanswered.

But none characters were caught in limbo, biding their time.  We have crossed the bridge (A Clash of Kings) to the new board—and the game has gotten deadlier.

The teams in this game are almost constantly evolving.  My list of the major teams and players consists of at least six different remaining claims to a throne in Westeros, with a vigilante group that will only cause carnage, a wild card who might greatly improve the chances of another team, and a would-be-king that is in training and cannot rejoin the game till he has leveled up.  Some of these characters I enjoy and I respect the majority of them for being fully formed, but I think that it’s the intrigue and world-building that holds me enthralled.  There is a definite element of whodunit, though perhaps because I am beginning to understand Martin’s style, I was able to guess more of the major events and “turns” of this book than I have been of others.

I finally believe that Martin will kill everyone I love—and I hope that will prevent me from establishing any more attachments, but it’s not looking good on that score.  I have a new ship and though they’re separated for now, I’m holding on.  Maybe they can be reunited when this is over—except for all those pesky vows of celibacy (why is it that the best ships in this series involve the supposed-to-be-celibate?).

My growing belief that the one monotheistic religion in the book worships a deity whose powers seem very sinister makes me somewhat uncomfortable.  I cannot decide if Martin is intending to imply anything about the Abrahamic God with R’hllor.  The preaching of R’hllor’s followers seems somewhat Christian at times—till Melisandre births a demon shadow.  Parallels between those who worship R’hllor and Christians certainly exist; they both follow religions from the East, monotheistic with a good/light versus evil/dark theology, and both burn the occasional “pagan” church or nonbeliever (ignoring the darker deeds of our past won’t erase them).  I am currently taking this series as one written from the Druidic perspective.  Westeros becomes a place where all English history and legends can exist at once:  The War of the Roses coexists with Robin Hood and the coming of Christians to the shores of England, and these “Christians” are inflamed with this deadly fervor of the Crusaders.  Westeros’ legends include parallels to Greek and Roman myths.

I am willing to continue, taking this as a work of fantasy and assigning the misdeeds of R’hllor and his followers to the characters themselves while accepting that Martin may be asking me to examine the history of Christianity.

****

Martin, George R. R.  Song of Fire and Ice, Book Three: A Storm of Swords.  New York: Bantam-Random, 2000.

This review is not endorsed by George R. R. Martin, Bantam Books, or Random House, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: A “Shipping” Song of Ice and Fire and A Clash of Kings

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When one “ships” a couple in a fandom, it usually means that the reader/viewer wants that couple to fall madly, deeply in love and remain together forever.  When I “ship” characters in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, I do not do this, so I don’t really want to dub it shipping.  I want to call it matchmaking.  I don’t dream about a couple together forever.  I dream about a couple wedded and ruling the kingdom with love to follow or maybe not.  By the end of A Game of Thrones, I was matchmaking Robb/Dany because Robb seems to be making a decent leader and I like Dany and don’t think that she’ll let anyone but her husband or progeny sit comfortably on the Iron Throne so long as she’s alive.  By 100 pages into A Clash of Kings, I was considering a Gendry/Arya match, because Gendry is at least of Robert Baratheon’s blood and—actually, that might be a ship.  The circumstances of their meeting might just scream “future romantic coupling probable!” and even if Gendry can’t be crowned, I think I would still ship he and Arya—except that Arya is supposed to be wedded to a Frey—but maybe that would just make their ship more romantic, since it would be forbidden or impossible love.

A Clash of Kings, second in A Song of Ice and Fire, complicates the wars waged over Westeros by adding new would-be-kings of half or more of the island and new gods and cultures besides.  The world is expanding, and that I greatly appreciated.  Martin captures well the diversity of religious beliefs and rituals.

Martin’s writing seems both more advanced and less polished in this second novel.  Twists were more sudden and sharp.  Martin makes use of his multiple narrators to offer the reader foreshadowing and herrings, such that I second-guessed my initial and correct guess at least once.  Yet, the wealth of narrators has here become overwhelming.  In particular, the introduction of the narrator Davos, a once-smuggler now lord and always sea captain with a good heart, who questions more devious methods of war, left me floundering.  Each time he appeared as a narrator, I had to read half a page before I could remember who he was and for whom he fought, and this broke the spell of Martin’s narrative for me, however much I liked Davos when I did remember him and however much I understand why he needed to be given a narrative role.

My interest waned more so in the middle than it had in A Game of Thrones.

Sections of this story (Jon’s, Dany’s, maybe even Arya’s) may have been bridge sections, used purely to get the characters into the positions that he wants them for the third book.  Great swaths of untold story seemed to separate the narrative chapters of these characters, though post-read, I think that I can see where nothing of importance likely happened to these narrators between those chapters.  Other perspectives seemed to be missing, and I hope that their stories will be flushed out in future novels.  The end of A Clash of Kings leaves me with almost more questions than it does answers.  The end felt like no resolution, only another beginning.

***1/2

Martin, George R. R.  Song of Fire and Ice, Book 2: A Clash of Kings.  New York: Spectra-Bantam-Random, 1999.

This review is not endorsed by George R. R. Martin, Spectra, Bantam Books, or Random House, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: You Can’t Stop Playing A Game of Thrones

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Coming late as usual to the party, I’ve just finished the first book in A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones.  You may have noticed if you’ve been following this blog, or if you scan down the entries, that I don’t frequent adult fantasy.  I have just not found myself as drawn to adult heroes as I have to those working beneath the noses of adults and on a curfew or those just coming of age and discovering themselves while saving the world.  Perhaps that makes A Game of Thrones a great introduction to adult fantasy for me and others who usually don’t read above teen level.  Many of the heroes of A Game of Thrones are not adults.

Rickon Stark, the youngest of his siblings, is only three, and his next oldest brother, Bran, [SPOILER] now heir to Winterfell, [END SPOILER] is younger than nine.  Danaerys (Dany) Targaryen, whom I expect to be a major player in this deadly game, is in her early teens, just developing the curves of womanhood.  Robb Stark, [SPOILER] Lord of Winterfell, [END SPOILER] and another major player in the game, is only fourteen.  These last two easily fall into the age range of heroes about whom I usually read; the other two are actually younger, though Bran, who is one of several third person limited narrators, is very well-spoken, maybe too well-spoken to accurately portray his age, actually, even allowing for a culture at which one comes of age around fifteen.

Though sexual relationships are perhaps more key to the plot in this book than in many teen novels, in truth, I think there are probably more graphic and more blunt sex scenes in some teen literature (generally not in what I read, but I avoid most teen romance and most teen issue books).  What truly marks A Game of Thrones as adult literature is its length.  This book would not be publishable as a teen book on the merits of word count alone.  The greatest maximum word count for a teen fantasy manuscript that agents will consider that I have found is 120,000; the Internet claims that A Game of Thrones nears a hefty 298,000 words.  Teens who love to read and aren’t daunted by page count shouldn’t be discouraged from reading this book.

A Game of Thrones further deviates from the majority of books that I read in that is so very plot- rather than character-driven.  When I realized that with the wealth of characters, I was shipping no one, I began to suspect such was the case.  Now, if I’m planning marriages, they are marriages of position and peace-brokering not love.

Many of the necessary trope characters are here, but on many of them, Martin has put a new spin, and he has created several atypical characters to balance the tropes. Martin has not neglected creating likeable characters.  There are those that I hope to see live and those that I hope die.

Martin’s political intrigues are exceedingly twisted and leave the reader guessing and second-guessing whom to trust and what is best for the kingdom.  His world itself is vast, though not exceedingly well-mapped (though Martin just published a book of maps to complement the text).

I’ve just bought book 2.

****

Martin, George R. R.  A Song of Ice and Fire, Book One: A Game of Thrones.  New York: Spectra-Bantam-Random, 1996.

This review is not endorsed by George R. R. Martin, Spectra, Bantam Books, or Random House, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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.