Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Fortune and Fate by Sharon Shinn – guest review by Jim Haley In her Twelve Houses series, Sharon Shinn has done something that I personally haven’t seen often in the (admittedly little) fantasy I’ve read. The ‘epic battle’ has taken a complete backseat to the characters and their personal stories. In fact, I’d say the fantasy is a backdrop, a setting, that while in and of itself is certainly interesting and fascinating in its own right, is nothing really compared to the ever expanding cast of characters the author has introduced. Fortune and Fate is the fifth book in this series, and though it is helpful to have read the other books in the series, it is not necessary. In part due to Shinn’s focus on the characters; each book in the series highlights the point of view of one character - and a minor character in one book is often the main character in the next, constantly shifting the overall story to a different perspective in each subsequent book. In the first four books we’re slowly introduced to a rising rebellion in this land, where people who are endowed with the ability to use magic are being persecuted against. By the fourth book, this rebellion has been quashed, and everyone lived happily ever after. Everyone except Wen; a minor character from most of the previous four books. She is a Rider, the elite guards of the King or Queen, and she failed in her duty to keep the King alive in the heat of the final battle in book 4. Because she did not wind up giving her life trying to defend her King, she finds herself living with survivor’s guilt. She cannot serve the King’s daughter, her new Queen, but instead is living a sort of non-existence roaming the countryside, trying to right wrongs and get in over her head in the hopes she’ll be taken out in a blaze of glory. But when she saves a kidnap victim, her whole world is turned around. This teenager is the daughter and inheritor of the lands of one of the men who fought against her and were responsible for the death of the King. Wen wants to hate Karryn, and wants nothing to do with her, but at the same time she starts to bond with her and feel responsible. Upon returning her to her uncle, Jaspar the acting Regent for the land, it’s obvious he is out of his depth with regards to providing protection for his niece. Wen takes on the job of training a cadre of guards, but always on a month by month basis, because she refuses to be tied down if she gets the urge to run. And yet slowly, she and Jaspar bond. He introduces her to the joys of reading; she shows him the fun that can be had in learning strategy through a board game. They continue to meet each night, growing closer as they come together to fight off various threats to Karryn. But what will happen when her former comrades among the Riders come looking for her and what will become of her feelings for Jaspar? I can highly recommend the entire Twelve Houses series, and as mentioned earlier, it is not necessary to have read the previous volumes to enjoy Fortune and Fate. This book is probably my second favorite, just after Dark Moon Defender, and I only hope that Sharon Shinn has plans to continue this series even beyond book 5 (she already has a short story set in this world coming out in the book Quatrain later this year). But if you enjoy character driven stories in a fantasy setting, you could do far worse than the fully fleshed out work that Shinn gives in Fortune and Fate. Guest reviewer Jim Haley is a regular contributor to the Star Wars fan site www.njoe.com. His regular weekly column is featured each Friday, featuring news and reviews of non-Star Wars books by Star Wars authors, as well as other media tie-in fiction. His latest column, a review of Alan Dean Foster’s Transformers: The Veiled Threat can be found HERE.