Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mystic and Rider by Sharon Shinn

Mystic and Rider (The Twelve Houses, Book 1)
When I picked up a copy of The Thirteenth House, by Shinn, I just had to go back and re-read the first book in the series to refresh my memory of "that which has gone before." I enjoyed it nearly as much as the first time around (perhaps it's a short term memory loss thing).

In Mystic, we have a group of people - Tayse, a senior King's Rider, Justin, a novice Rider, Senneth, a powerful mystic, Kirra, a shape-shifting mystic, and Donnal, another shape-shifter - who have been sent on a mission by King Baryn to investigate rumors of dissent in the southern provinces. Early in their journey, they acquire another companion, Cammon, whom they rescue from a somewhat abusive state of domestic servitude, and who turns out to be a sensitive type of mystic; he can sense the thoughts and intentions of those around him.

This novel does a really good job of introducing us to about half of the provinces of Gillengaria, King Baryn's realm. As the group prepares to deal with each ruler, or marlord, there's a good bit of dialogue discussing their character, strengths and weaknesses, political leanings, and so forth. Also, during one long night around the fire, we get to hear the back story for each of the companions. Tayse is the quintessential military brat; his father was a Rider, and his grandfather before him. Justin grew up as a street urchin, but was recruited by Tayse after Justin attempted to rob him, and now is fiercely loyal to Tayse and the King's Riders for giving him a home and family, of sorts.

Senneth was born to a noble house, but was disowned by her father and spent years wandering alone through Gillengaria and surrounding regions before she was recruited by the King to use her mystic powers on his behalf, and spy for him, as well. Kirra is also a noble, but her father was more tolerant of her mystical abilities, and raised her in an atmosphere of love and support. Donnal is the son of a poacher living on Kirra's father's lands, who was brought to the estate to train with Kirra in the mystic arts. Cammon is an orphan, and finds in this odd group a sense of belonging he's never had before.

This series isn't as intensely emotional and powerful as her earlier Samaria books, but the political intrigue pretty well makes up for it. The villains, as well, have believable motivations and back stories. If I got into them in any depth, I'd have to give a spoiler alert, so I won't. The primary villains are a brother and sister, Halchon and Coralinda Gisseltesse. Halchon's need for power and influence lead him to begin his plotting to depose the king, and could embroil Gillengaria in a civil war. Coralinda is a religious fanatic, leader of the Sisters of the Pale Mother, and her self-proclaimed mission is to rid the land of all mystics, whom she believes are evil personified.

Mystic and Rider is a great yarn, and a great beginning to another well-written series by Shinn. It's out in paperback now, so pick it up and enjoy.

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