Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Quick Review: Troubled Waters

Title: Troubled Waters
Author: Sharon Shinn
Themes: change, power, love, family
Rating: **1/2

Plot: Bestseller Shinn (Quatrain) carries readers away into a vivid new fantasy world where the five elements control everyone's lives. Alone and in shock after the death of her father, Zoe Ardelay is invited to the capital to become the king's fifth wife and create a much needed numerological balance both politically and at court, where the four queens vie to promote their children for the role of heir to the throne. Then Zoe learns she is the new prime of the Lalindar clan, which saves her from the marriage, but thrusts her into a world of dangerous political scheming, secret agendas, and an increasingly risky attraction to royal adviser Darien Serlast. This entertaining and suspenseful story is full of lively characters, and the intriguing new system of magic and politics provides plenty of potential for sequels.

My Thoughts: For some reason I totally had Avatar: The Last Airbender in mind the entire time I was reading this fun little adventure/romance by Sharon Shinn. In Shinn's new world every person has a tie to an element which determines their character to a large extent. The whole elemental connection/magical power thing definitely followed the traditional modes of thought (i.e. "fire" people were hot tempered and ambitious, "stone/earth" people are stubborn and unmovable...etc.) concerning elemental personality attributes. I think this is always a fun way to order a fantasy universe/people, despite the fact that it's been done countless times before. Shinn adds an extra element by providing an elaborate "blessing" system that occurs at birth, where the new parent asks three random people to pull blessing coins from the temple for their newborn child. These coins contain words or phrases such as "beauty," "power," or "industrious" and are believed to truthfully characterize the newborn through their life.

Zoe is a likable, yet very flawed (and rather slow), protagonist with a strong sense of right and wrong - but an ambiguous relationship to power and any means to gaining power. While the romance was a bit predictable and staid, and the elemental philosophy a bit overemphasized and redundant I found this novel to be a fun little jaunt into another of Shinn's fantasy worlds. Zoe faces many obstacles, gains and loses power, and finally comes to a self-awareness she lacked at the beginning of the novel.

With most of Shinn's works I find the plotlines to be a bit...overextended, with events just piling up and no apparent reason for it all. While it makes for a fast and exciting second-half of a book it does come across as strained to me. It just seems like a bit too much. Just one of these issues or events could make a satisfying and exciting read...for instance the Soechin infatuation with youth was disturbing and frighteningly familiar and the entire book could have been written about the possible marriage between the two kingdoms.

Recommendation: A staid read with predictable romance and a familiar elemental personality system...yet the details are fun and the world building is excellent. I would recommend to anyone looking for a light read, especially if they are a fan of Shinn's works.

Similar Reads: Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn, Chalice by Robin McKinley

Shinn, Sharon. Troubled Waters. New York: Ace Books, 2010.

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