Monday, October 18, 2010

Review: Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn

Zoe’s entire world becomes unhinged when her father passes away from a long illness. Her father had been an advisor to the king before being banished for reasons unknown to Zoe some 10 years prior, and they had lived in anonymity in a remote village ever since. But upon his death an agent of the king, named Darien Serlast, comes looking for Zoe – with plans to make her the king’s fifth wife. In her grief she accompanies him to the city, but takes the first opportunity to make her escape and live amongst the unwanted of the city, starting a life of herself – one she never had while taking care of her father. She makes friends and get’s a job, but slowly begins to realize there’s something different about her. She can dive underwater for unending amounts of time and never need to breathe. She can hear the pulse in everyone and know who is related to whom. Those powers signify her status as a Prime, the leader of one of the elements and head of a powerful family. She now finds herself in a position of being thrust into the role, learning about the family she never knew and now an advisor to the king herself – full of treachery and intrigues. The king wants to sign a treaty with a nearby nation, but do all his advisors agree with that decision? And what of the kings three daughters, each by a different mother – and none yet named heir. Someone wants to ensure one of them is never selected, and Zoe finds herself right in the middle. Troubled Waters is a fantasy novel in a new universe by Sharon Shinn. That’s not to say that this novel couldn’t be a part of the Twelve Houses universe (it could easily be another continent on that same world), but there is no connection between this and any other work of hers that I’ve read. There’s no word on if this is the first novel in a new series, or if it is stand alone – but it reads as a complete novel with no lingering plots. I discovered Sharon Shinn years ago, picking up Archangel because it looked intriguing. It remains one of my favorite novels ever, and I go out of my way to read anything by Shinn as time allows. She has a style of writing that appeals to me, instantly engaging with the ability to describe even mundane activities and make them interesting. All of her characters come alive, these are fully realized people with complex personalities… and there’s no shortage of characters in Troubled Waters, so that’s saying a lot. Shinn’s world-building is has also long been a strong suit of hers, and this “just on the cusp of Industrialization era” based fantasy world could almost have been called Steampunk – but even without that label it’s an interesting place to visit. From the ornate castle of the king to the little shops, the open marketplace with blind oracles and temples where you can receive the blessings of the elements, as well as the river which comes from the high mountains and flows through canals in the city where the homeless live out their lives. This is not an action packed fantasy adventure novel. It was about 150 pages before Zoe even discovered she had any powers. There are only three “action” type moments in the entire book – and none of them are the kinds of things you’d find in a fantasy blockbuster. This is not that type of book, and if that’s what you’re looking for, it’s best to look elsewhere (Shinn’s wonderful Twelve Houses books are more action packed). That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Troubled Waters – it’s just best to be prepared for what kind of book it is. This is mostly about court intrigues and the mystery of who is trying to kill the princess, not to mention Zoe learning the secrets about why her father was exiled. It has a dash of romance, just like all of Shinn’s books – not a “romance” novel, but it’s one of the stronger elements of the story. I was a little disappointed with the ending, it seemed a little off in that Zoe is told a bunch of things that have happened in her absence when she could just as easily have been there in person to see them for herself – but considering I stayed up well past my bedtime to finish reading it is a testament to how much I was enjoying reading this book. If you’re a fan of Sharon Shinn, definitely give it a read – if you’re new to this author, this is a nice stand-alone book (which could be used by the author as the beginning of a new series) that gives the reader a good feel for what you can expect from any of Shinn’s books (strong characters and exquisite world building). It’s not my favorite Shinn novel, but it’s by no means bad – another solid work from an author who consistently puts out excellent books.


Abby Minard said...

I have this one on hold at my library. Sharon Shinn is one of my all-time favorite authors. The Twelve Houses Series ranks right up there in my top 10. You nailed it when you talked about her world building and characters- I am in love with her characters and she really inspires me to to try hard to write my own as well as she does.

SQT said...

I have "Archangel" and have been meaning to get to it. One of the downsides of having such a big TBR pile is that authors I want to check out get shuffled off to the side.

Sullivan McPig said...

Thanks for the review. I love all the Samaria book, so will give this one a try.