Sunday, October 4, 2015

Troubled Waters

When I was visiting Chapters awhile ago with my brother, Sharon Shinn's Royal Airs caught my attention.  It sounded like a standalone story, so I didn't mind reading it.  But knowing it was book two of her Elemental Blessings series kind of bothered me. So at the first chance I got, I picked up the first book, Troubled Waters.

Earlier this week I realized I had to write a book review.  Having not read anything for a few weeks besides Macleans magazines (my brother has been giving them to me and I'm quite behind on reading them), I decided I should read a book fast.  I was thinking of reading The Secret Country by Pamela Dean, but I found myself really, really wanting to read Troubled Waters instead.  For one thing, I've read only short stories by Shinn and have been wanting to read one of her novels for some time now.  For another, her Elemental Blessings novels really appeal to me right now: if I get super into the series, there's currently only one more out, which I have (unlike with her Samaria series - if I start Archangel and love it, I'll have to track down the other four books!)

So Troubled Waters is about Zoe Ardelay, a girl who has spent the last ten years living in a small village with her father, a former royal advisor.  After her father passes away, the new royal advisor, Darien Serlast, arrives to inform her she has been chosen to be the king's fifth wife. 

On their journey to the city, Zoe is a shell of herself, still deeply grieving her father's very recent death.  But when they arrive in the city, she seizes a moment to disappear, staying with the other people who live alongside the river.  Slowly she begins to heal, making a life for herself there.  But she knows it is only temporary, for she will have to decide what she will do.  For she is born of one of the Five Great Houses, and she knows she will not be content to live by the river forever.

But then she makes an even more astonishing discovery - she is the heir to her mother's family, a secret that has been kept from her her entire life.  And so she goes to reclaim her heritage.  A heritage that means she will have to return to the city, the King's court, and to Darien Serlast, but this time as the prime of a powerful family. 

I wasn't sure what exactly I was going to get out of Troubled Waters.  I've basically just given you the summary of the back of the book.  But honestly, that pretty much gets you halfway through the book.  The second half of the book is actually a court drama that Zoe is thrust into the middle of.  What made it super interesting was not only the schemings of the king's four wives and the presence of Darien Serlast (a man of wood and bone, who was totally at odds with Zoe's water and blood heritage and personality), but the way Zoe was able to play the court games even after having been living in exile with her father for ten years.  She didn't really care about a lot of what was going on, but she was playing the games anyway, mainly because she had to - she is now the head of the Lalindar family and needs to keep up their position.  But she's also part of the Ardelay family, and wants to bring them back into favour with the court and the king.

Shinn's worldbuilding was quite awesome - I loved the world of the Elemental Blessings.  This is a world where the number five is incredibly important.  At birth, a child's father goes up to three strangers to acquire three random blessings for the child, which come from the five elements (or if the child is extremely lucky, from the sixth set of extraordinary blessings).  Most people have a main element that they have an affinity to, be it water/blood (coru), wood/bone (hunti), fire/mind (sweela), air/soul (elay), or earth/flsh (torz).  This tends to be quite pronounced in the Five Great Families.  The head of each family also has extraordinary power, being able to command the element they have an affinity for.  So in Zoe's case, she can call water to do her bidding, she will not drown, and she can actually feel the make-up of anyone's blood if she can touch their skin.  The seasons are also organized into five, which are also named after the elements (Quinnelay, Quinncoru, Quinnahunti, Quinnatorz, and Quinnasweela).

Oh yeah, and you can wander into a temple and pull random blessings during a day.  These blessings can help give you direction for what's going on in your life.

I also really liked that all the people in this book is that they all felt real: they were all flawed human beings in their own way.  Oh, who am I kidding?  I actually liked Troubled Waters so much that it made its way onto my favourites shelf on Goodreads, something that doesn't happen all that often (the last book to make it there was Elizabeth Bear's By the Mountain Bound, which I read in January).  The characters were believable, Shinn's descriptions were great, everything was great.  Troubled Water was exactly the sort of book I expected from her after reading the couple of short stories by her (especially after being blown away by "Nocturne" four years ago) I'm only sorry that I've put off reading a novel by her for so long!

No comments: