Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Troubled Waters

Only as he lies dying does the exiled Navarr Ardelay tell his daughter Zoe to remember that she is part of her mother's family too.  Only under duress does Zoe return to the capital city, when royal adviser Darien Serlast collects her from her remote village, telling her she has been chosen to be the king's fifth wife.  Once she reaches the city, she walks away from her escort for no reason she can name, still numb with grief, and settles in with the homeless community by the riverbank.  There, she gradually comes to discover what it was that neither her father nor Darien Serlast would tell her: that she is the missing heir to her grandmother's power, and the rightful head of one of the five greatest families in the kingdom.

When she's on top of her game, there's no one like Sharon Shinn for creating fantastic societies that feel real. I particularly liked the elemental system in this one: everyone is ruled by one of the five elements, earth, air, water, fire or wood. Each element is associated with certain blessings, and temples offer a sort of do-it-yourself divination where people can draw a random blessing.  The politics of palace and riverside both made sense, because both places were inhabited by people who felt real. 

I don't know if this is meant to be a stand-alone novel or the start of a series, but I know I'd be interested in more stories in this setting.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


The thousand-year alliance between the humans and the pegasi has been maintained, in spite of a near-total mutual inability to communicate, by the ritual bonding of individual members of the two royal families: human king to pegasus king, king's child to king's child.  Even so, the bonded pairs need interpreters, and each pair is assigned a human magician as Speaker.  But when the human princess Sylvi and her assigned pegasus bondmate Ebon discover at their first meeting that they can speak to each other perfectly clearly, mind-to-mind, many on the human side (especially the magicians) are disturbed by the closeness of their friendship.

There was a time when I loved Robin McKinley's work unreservedly, and I still make a point of reading everything she writes.  I was particularly pleased to win this one as an advance copy from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers giveaway; I got it in the mail the day before my birthday, a good two weeks before the publication date, so I read it with no preconceptions.  But I think I would have liked it better if I had known beforehand that it isn't a whole story in one book; it ends very abruptly, leaving all the plot threads hanging, so there's evidently at least one more volume coming up whenever the characters get around to telling Robin what the rest of the story is.

I will read the rest of the story whenever it appears, of course.  I liked the characters, and the description of the thoroughly different pegasus culture was fascinating.  I'd have liked a little more resolution, though.