Monday, November 25, 2013

Royal Airs by Sharon Shinn

 I'm beginning to sense a pattern here, we'll see if it gets out of hand eventually. Country bumpkin comes to the big city, finds out that they're the heir to something or other important. This second book in the Elemental Blessings series is the story of Rafe Adova, a handsome and devil-may-care professional gambler in the slums of Chialto. It takes place several years after the conclusion of Troubled Waters, and Zoe is happily married to Darien, the regent, with a child of their own to raise.

One night while Rafe is plying his trade, one of Zoe's sister-princesses, Corene, shows up, on the run from unknown pursuers, in the dive where he plays cards and rents a room (there ought to be a way to adapt Bogart's "Of all the gin joints..." line here). After chasing off some random thugs who just want to have some fun with the little lady, he offers her sanctuary, and hires a messenger to get word out to her relatives what has happened to her. The other sister, Josetta, runs a shelter for the homeless, hopeless and helpless in the slums, and she arrives shortly, then they both await the arrival of Darien while resting in Rafe's room. He's evidently mostly harmless.

As one might imagine, there's a bit of a spark between Josetta and Rafe, despite the vast gulf between their social stations, and they begin to spend time together, as Rafe visits her shelter and helps out with the cooking and serving there, when he's not busy fleecing innocent gamblers. He's not a card shark or cheater, just a very savvy natural card player, with an odd sense of honor - he'll advise young country bumpkins to go have fun elsewhere before they lose all their money to him.

There's an odd mixture of technology and elemental magic in Shinn's most recent world, with perhaps a bit of steampunk flavor to things - it's surprising the cover artwork doesn't reflect it. With the reward that Rafe received from Damien for rescuing Corene, he is able to invest in the factory owned by mad inventor and elemental Prime Kayle Dochenza -Josetta introduces them, where instead of the usual elaymotives (horseless carriages) Kayle is building Chialto's first flying machines. Rafe is fascinated by this, and soon takes a job as a test pilot at the factory, giving up his gambling career for something a little more risky.

A fun plot, sympathetic characters, nasty politics and some interesting twists, as Shinn reveals more and more of her world. Hope she keeps 'em coming.

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