Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Review: Mystic and Rider by Sharon Shinn

I recently picked up the The Twelve Houses series by Sharon Shinn mostly because I was drawn to the cover art of The Thirteenth House, the second book of the series. This, of course, is a terrible reason to choose a book, but there you are. I had already read Shinn's Samaria series, which I enjoyed for the most part with some minor exceptions (such as the fact that, though the books are a "series," the Samaria stories do not overlap very much and have different casts of characters for each book).

The two series, however, share certain characteristics in that they could be classified as "fantasy romance," which some bloggers seem to find unusual or noteworthy but I do not. (Of course, I grew up reading Anne McCaffrey, Melanie Rawn, and Robin McKinley, all of whom use looooove in their plots, so the fantasy genre is generally closely tied to amore of some kind.)

First up is Mystic and Rider, which introduces us not only to the main characters of the series but to the fairly complex political system which rules the world of Gillengaria. Though I was initially overwhelmed at the idea of keeping track of--egad--twelve houses, Shinn is fairly consistent at re-reminding us of the personalities of each house so that we aren't forced to create a character flowchart to follow the storyline. (I find it hard to believe that any family would have the simplistic behavior traits that Shinn employs here to explain hundreds of years of history, but it would be impossible for the reader to follow anything any more complex so I understand why Shinn did what she did here. I have the same opinion of J.K. Rowling's four houses of Hogwarts, so it may be a fantasy genre trope with which I should just learn to deal.)

The book follows six characters as they travel through the twelve houses of Gillengaria gathering information on the political atmospheres of each land at the order of their king. While it took me a while to figure out which main character was which (Shinn throws all four main male characters at the reader at the same time which is, in my opinion, never a good idea), they eventually emerge as fairly complete characters who, while they may lean on stereotypes a bit, are not overtly cliche, though the women are in general better-written than the men.

Up first is Senneth, the Mystic who controls fire and whose past is slowly revealed throughout the novel to make her more and more sympathetic of a character. Her love interest (indicated by the title, so I'm not giving anything away here) is Tayse, a King's Rider who distrusts (a) Mystics, and (b) those who haven't sworn fealty to any one person or ideal. These two prejudices provide most of the friction between our main characters as they travel.

While I could predict some of the major "eureka!" moments, there were several that took me pleasantly by surprise and I enjoyed most of the novel. I would give it a B+ and would definitely recommend it to those who enjoy the "fantasy romance" series.

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