Monday, November 15, 2010

Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn

In comparison with the last book I read, this one flew by. It took me less than 48 hours to finish it. I find that I read books that I enjoy pretty quickly, despite whatever school mess is also due. 

Zoe Ardelay receives astonishing and unwelcome news: she has been chosen to become the king’s fifth wife. Forced to go to the royal city, she manages to slip away and hide on the shores of the mighty river.

It’s there that Zoe realizes she is a coru prime ruled by the elemental sign of water. She must return to the palace, not as an unwilling bride for the king, but a woman with power in her own right. But as Zoe unlocks more of the mysteries of her blood — and the secrets of the royal family — she must decide how to use her great power to rise above the deceptions and intrigue of the royal court.

Before Troubled Waters, I had read all of Sharon Shinn's Samaria books and enjoyed them very much. Again, Shinn creates a world that is very original and complex, just as I found Samaria to be. I found the world to be the most enchanting part of this book, actually.

The magical system is based on the 5 elements, although Shinn combined two different ideas of the elements. Generally, one hears about earth, fire, air, water and aether (soul) as the 5 elements, the Classical elements. The Chinese have another system: earth, water, fire, metal, and wood. It seems that the author combined these two...her elements are earth, fire, air, water, and wood. I found that to be somewhat confusing, merely because I have trouble understanding the Chinese system to begin with.

One of my absolute favorite elements was the quasi-religious system in the novel. At the temples, there are barrels full of coins marked with different blessings. When a baby is born, their parent is to ask 3 random people to pull blessings from the barrels. These will be the child's blessings through their life. Zoe's are Beauty, Love, and Power. There is a great side story in the book where a man asks Zoe for help pulling blessings for surprise twin girls. If you are in need of guidance, you pay a tithe and pull some blessings from the barrels that will give you direction. Certain blessings are tied into the different elements, but anyone can have any blessing, regardless of their affinity.

The book reminded me very much of Maria V Snyder's Poison Study. Both writing styles seem similar, and the depth of the novels are about the same. While Shinn's world is very fleshed out, I found the characters to be less so, and the story to be somewhat simplistic. I stop short of calling them all two dimensional because the supporting characters were all very different and the story certainly kept me reading. However, I found I was able to accurately predict how the story would go most of the time. There were twists, but I could identify when they would occur, and make an approximation of what would happen. 

Zoe has a love interest, and I felt that their love for each other was somewhat out of the blue. There was zero development of a relationship besides a lot of arguing. Zoe is a likable heroine, but a very predictable one I'm sorry to say, and I did not find her to be a very realistic character either. The supporting characters were well developed and interesting, but I got very little feel for Zoe other recklessness and impulsivity with absolutely no regret for any of her actions. Somehow, there are never any repercussions either.

The end was terribly abrupt and seemed thrown together. Huge event happens, but it's in the last 50 pages or so of the book. In the last 3 pages, 90% of the loose ends are tied together in a pretty bow. It was just really strange, because the book spends all this time building up, and the ending was just terribly rushed. It was almost like the author was gearing up for a trilogy or series, but then decided not to write the rest and just cram the next book or two into the last few pages.

That said, I really enjoyed this book. I really didn't mind any of the previously mentioned issues as I was reading. I was aware of them, but they did not impede my enjoyment. I had a really hard time putting it down because it was so exciting and entertaining. It was very refreshing to enjoy a book after the debacle of the last two I tried to read. 

Reading back, my analysis seems pretty critical, but I would highly recommend picking this book up. I'm sad there's not more than one book in this world. If you're looking for something deep, insightful or dark and realistic, look elsewhere. If you're looking for a fun, light, absorbing read, Troubled Waters is a great place to start.

Bottom Line
Overall Rating: 4 / 5
Buy or Try? Buy (I would read this again for sure)
More? Standalone
Plot: 3 / 5
Setting: 5 / 5
Characters: 3 / 5 (for all the varied characters)
Pace: Middlin' to Fast 
Descriptiveness: Prose
Fantasy factor: High Fantasy link


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