"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." — Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn

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Summary: Summoned to be the king's fifth wife, Zoe Ardelay runs away to discover her role in the family she had always believed abandoned her, in this new fantasy novel.

Sharon Shinn is one of the most talented authors I read, since she can create entire new worlds that make sense in a believable way. In Troubled Waters, Shinn creates a new world that fascinated me, based loosely on feng shui principles or perhaps zodiac signs.

Each of us have blessings bestowed upon us at birth which remain with us, and our characteristics are also divided into five categories: hunti (wood/bone); sweela (fire/mind); coru (water/blood);  elay (air/soul); and torz (earth/flesh). At any time you can visit a temple to pick a random blessing to give you divine guidance about a current task, problem or event. It's interesting - do people adopt characteristics of their element and do people treat them like their element, so they become that way, or are people destined to act and behave as their elements?

Inside this new world of Shinn's, we have Zoe - the daughter of a fire (sweela) man and a water (coru) woman. Fire and water don't normally mix, but Zoe is the best and worst of her elements. Flexible and powerful, like water; hot-tempered yet warm and affectionate like fire, Zoe is content to let things happen to her, rather than actively forcing something. Her passivity annoys me, but the story develops around her and she seems strangely reluctant to become the head of her family - the coru prime.

After her father's death in exile,  Zoe is escorted to the capitol to become the king's fifth wife. During a traffic jam, Zoe "escapes" and lives a casual, almost vagrant, life alongside the river. On her way to work one morning, she is robbed and attacked by thugs.  For her safety, she leaps into the river and is carried away underneath the city, protected and nurtured by the water. Realizing that she has an extraordinary connection to water - the trait of her mother's family, Zoe leaves her life at the riverbank to take her place as the prime - the head of the family. Once she's connected with her mother's family, Zoe is summoned to court for her official duties as prime and is mired in court politics and a budding romance with a hunti nobleman.

In typical Sharon Shinn fashion, a restless woman discovers her own strengths in a fish-out-of water situation and romance is secondary to the heroine's growth and the exquisitely executed details of Shinn's fantasy worlds. Troubled Waters is no exception.

If you're not a fan of fantasy fiction, and you think feng shui is baloney, you won't like this book. But I consider it one of Sharon Shinn's best, also reminiscent of the Kristin Cashore novels, where political intrigue could topple a monacrchy.

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