Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn

I was a little irritated when I picked up Troubled Waters. I've been so looking forward to something new in the Twelve Houses series by her, and instead of taking me back there, she heads out to a whole new world.
On the positive side, Shinn's writing and imagination are so wonderful that she took me to a place full of enjoyment and wonder, as always.

Zoe Ardelay has lived in a small, remote village ever since her father was disgraced and exiled from his position in the king's court a decade ago. When her father dies, Zoe is surprised when an emissary from the capitol, Darien Serlast, arrives with a mission to return her to the king's court in Chialto, there to become his fifth bride. Griefstricken, Zoe makes no objection, and travels with Darien in the king's elaymotive, a recent mechanical innovation, much like a land train.

When their elaymotive pauses in the heart of Chialto, however, Zoe takes the opportunity to escape Darien's gentle and solicitive clutches, going into hiding with naught but her wits (and some gold pieces she had sewn into her scarf) and her memories of life in the city. She ends up with the rest of the homeless, vagrant population, on the banks of the river, Marisi, in a large semi-permanent encampment.

The population of Shinn's latest world is divided up into five main families, more or less corresponding with traditional elements, who each have their hereditary virtues and vices and sources of power. Zoe's dominating genes are coru - water/blood, while others have the character of elay - air/soul, hunti - wood/bone, sweela - fire/mind, and torz - earth/flesh. Each of the five families have a Prime, who is the embodiment of their powers, head of the family, and important member of the king's council.

Zoe, being coru, thrives in the riverside encampment, making friends, finding a job with a local cobbler's shop, and spending time in the local marketplace getting her bearings amidst the gossip and political maneuvering in Chialto. But the city is not always safe, and Zoe is chased by a group of young thugs one day, robbery and rape on their minds. When she is trapped against the edge of a canal, she leaps into the water, and the water embraces and protects her, whisking her under its surface to safety far down the banks. Curiously, she feels no need to breath while underwater, and when she finally surfaces she knows something unique has happened.

She visits the blind seer sisters in the marketplace, and - how surprising! - we learn that Zoe may just be the missing heir to the Lalindar family, who has been chosen from birth to be the Prime. Zoe first travels with friends to her grandmother's estate in the country, and is there recognized as the heir and Prime. Next she must enter the political arena, full of plots and conflict, in the capitol of Chialto - this time not as a penniless waif, but as a power in her own right.

Fun stuff, sympathetic characters, and we're left with a burning curiousity to see where else Shinn's imagination might take us next.

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