28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
It has been a while since I first read Mystic and Rider, picked up from the "Hot Books" section of my local library when nothing else caught my fancy. I remember taking a little while to sink into the story, almost reluctant to start the novel by this unfamiliar author (much later, I realized rather bemusedly this was the same Ms. Shinn who wrote the Archangel books, but I digress.), but that changed significantly after the second chapter. One of the most notable traits about Sharon Shinn is characterization, which counts as probably the single most important element in a book after plot. The reader's connection to the characters guides how enthralling, interesting, and gripping a tale will be. Mystic and Rider presented a strong, central heroine (Senneth) with very obvious flaws and then wove a core group of people around her. Each of the supporting cast possesses an individual personality with clear traits, whether it's Tayse's stoicism, Kirra's flightiness, Cammon's quirky innocence, Donnal's hint of wildness below the surface, and Justin's scrappy past. The combination worked splendidly in the first part of the story, and I eagerly awaited The Thirteenth House on the grounds Mystic and Rider established.
The Thirteenth House begins out in the province of Tilt, with dubious deeds following a hostage taking. As the previous book laid out, the nobility in the country has begun to air grievances in the light of an aging monarch and the apparent unreadiness of his young, untested, and secluded daughter to assume duties of the heir presumptive. One key noble family, a cornerstone of the aristocracy as an "upper house", exists in a state of semi-disgrace because the scion of the House has all but declared himself willing to seize the throne in a coup d'etat and depose Princess Amalie. The scion's sister leads an influential religious order from Lumanen Covenant, and their worship of the Silver Lady (or the Pale Lady), the goddess of the moon, has grown rather fervent and zealotous. Key among the shared beliefs between the lord and lady, the key adversaries in Mystic and Rider, is that mystics are a plague that ought to be purged.
That core element of conflict becomes more important because the hostage held at the beginning of The Thirteenth House is none other than the appointed regent for Princess Amalie and several of the central characters to the story are mystics. This time, Ms. Shinn focuses the story on Serramarra (Lady) Kirra Danalustrous, a shiftling and healer. She has the unusual gift of two mystic abilities where most have only one. Her powers of transformation generally apply to herself and inanimate objects, although theoretically she can transform living creatures into other things. Such practice is strictly forbidden by the tenets of the Wild Mother, a goddess faded into obscurity along with shiftlings. It becomes an issue Kirra is forced to consider at several points in the plot.
Kirra is the most capricious of the troupe that goes grandly traversing across the continent. She belongs to the aristocracy, as does Senneth, but she is the only character raised truly in that lifestyle. However, her status as a mystic pushes her to the edges of acceptable society and it's only her wittiness, beauty, and no doubt important family name that keep her in the right circles at all. This book focuses a great deal more on the aristocratic element, therefore, and Ms. Shinn develops a good sense of the cloak and dagger world that her nobility occupy. Close family ties, schemings and machinations make events very interesting at the best of times, and as the country inches closer to open rebellion and war, disentangling loyalties becomes of prime importance. Kirra's ability to shapeshift and loyalty to the throne put her in the thick of it all, with rather disastrous consequences.
It's the timely rescue she makes of the regent that sets off a twisted skein of events. The rescue begins with Kirra feeling infatuated with the regent, despite her obvious camraderie and feelings towards Donnal, the other shiftling who trained alongside her as a mystic since childhood. Her careless treatment of him has the smackings of whimsy and childishness, though Kirra herself is nearly 26 (a refreshing change from the ignorant 18 year old, a point Ms. Shinn stresses in objections to the "young" Amalie who is herself 18). The relationship between Donnal, Kirra, Justin and Cammon receives greater attention than in Mystic and Rider, and I can't help but thinking Justin has unrequitted feelings for Kirra. It's hard not to be bowled over by this airy, giddy woman but early in the book she takes on the role of her sister, Casserah.
Casserah's reprised role from the first book is a welcome one, primarily because she provides such a contrast to her sister. And besides, I rather love her name and apparent unflustered, controlled way of bullishly smashing through social conventions. The differences, starkly drawn, between Casserah and Kirra provide a constant reassessment even though Casserah herself appears only sporadically.
Several other reviewers made a point of expressing their dislike for adultery. (*Spoiler Warning*) Kirra does, in fact, move from infatuation to love with the regent for the Princess. As the Princess and Queen make their procession through several of the major provinces in a show of strength and to introduce the cloistered heir to the crown to her nobles and people, Kirra ends up in several precarious positions where the regent's safety and life are endangered. She contrives to rescue him on one occasion, and provides enough distraction on another to prevent harm from coming to him. Just as many disaffected nobles of the so-called Thirteenth House -- those who are a lesser nobility, tending the lands of the higher aristocrats in the Twelve Houses, and feel underappreciated and as though they lack appropriate political/social power -- are displeased by the regent as the king's weakening grip on power.
However, the regent is married and Kirra has prior attachments to Donnal. Despite warnings from her nearest and dearest friends, she carries on her dalliance with a recognition what she does is wrong but she still can't help herself. As much as this has been panned by some, Ms. Shinn's treatment is entirely realistic. She portrays Kirra throughout the series as a young woman rarely measuring the consequences of her actions or stopping for long to think on the negative. Even if Kirra recognizes at some level she's headed towards disaster or courts ill fortune, she never lets that stop her. She is the sunny sort to see the bright side with a wild optimism, so it stands to reason she shouldn't take the warnings to heart in the same way that other, more controlled characters might. She's as unpredictable as weather in spring, and that's precisely the point I feel some readers might be overlooking: Kirra isn't always logical, her emotions often rule her head, and she lived up til this point like a zephyr. When the gravity of her choices fall upon her, even as she long expected, she finds herself unprepared for the despair it causes her. It goes to show even when we can accept something with our head, our heart and our feelings don't neatly fall into place.
This is a book that stirs up responses, and yes, there are points where you may be beating your head against a metaphorical wall because we, the readers, can see where this path is likely to go. But Kirra herself does not, despite ample warning and stirring up gossip. She stays true to her course though her own misgivings mount. And the outcome of it is not butterflies-and-rainbows for everyone involved, possibly setting the stage for future developments that may take an uglier twist in the next book(s). Casserah Danalustrous, in particular, will have a lot to take on.
My only disappointment from this novel lies in an unfinished plotline. Kirra's abilities as a healer come up only around the "red-horse disease" afflicting many people. It has no cure and causes intense suffering, but worse, no one knows where it originates from. I hope sincerely it's looked into farther, because it holds so much promise.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
This is a very well-written second installment of the story that began in "Mystic and Rider." The story focuses on the shiftling mystic Kirra Danalustrous, who, at her father and sister's urgings, disguises herself as her sister and joins a royal company as they go to a series of balls and events at the various Twelve Houses.
Kirra is a delightful character, with fun and sparkle, as well as intelligent, brave and resource. It was great to see the other characters from "Mystic and Rider" again, as well as to get a closer look at Valri (and to meet Amalie). The world-building is great, and it was especially good to see more of Cammon's growth in confidence and strength. The world-building is great and the narrative really carries you along. Ms. Shinn has really grown as a writer.
However - (spoilers begin here)
This book answers none of the questions raised in the first installment of the series. We don't know very much about Valri, why she married Baryn. She has apparently shifted her protectiveness from Baryn to Amalie, but we don't know why.
The mystic-normal conflict definitely takes a back seat. Does no one have issues with Sennath traveling with the princess? No whispers about the queen? Yes, there are a few scenes, but nothing integral to the plot. Instead, the conflict seems to be unrelated. And speaking of Sennath, unless she is 1) protecting Amalie, 2) cuddling with Tayse or 3) comforting Kirra, she barely exists. So, she falls in love and becomes invisible? Hmmm.
Didn't we learn in the first book that Casserah basically only does what she wants? So, how did this transform into her being the best heir to Danalustrous? It felt to me as though Ms. Shinn just wanted to keep Kirra free and on the road and used this (really contrived) method to allow this. It was somewhat unbelievable. Also, if Casserah is so worthy and always does what's right, why isn't she going on this tour? Why is her own comfort more important? (I realize that would mean Ms. Shinn had no plot, but she should have figured out a better reason. Have her get sick or something).
The romance was stupid. First of all, it is inconceivable that Kirra would fall in love with such a stick. Second, what on earth was everyone doing berating HER? HE was the married man, HE was the one bound to be faithful, not her - and no one even mentioned it to him, let alone questioned his judgment or fitness for the regency. The ending infuriated me - he gets his loving wife, his child (probably), his regency - loses nothing, in fact, and Kirra gets to exile herself and grieve (on an isolated island no less!) tending that world's equivalent of lepers. Well, no, because there is a cure.
I have noticed that Ms. Shinn invariably "punishes" sexual or attractive women in her other books, usually through loss of status - Miriam goes from the Eyrie to living with the Edori, Jovieve ends up alone, Elizabeth ends up without an angel baby (with yet another Edori), and only after Kirra cures a major disease, renounces her lover and goes off into exile (while said lover gets off scot-free), she gets love and affection and support. Yes, she gets Donnal back, but how? And is he her equal? Can she talk to him about music or society or books or politics? Much as I like Ms. Shinn's work, I wish she would lose these antiquated sexual mores.
I also found it unbelievable that Kirra would gamble with her sister's status or reputation in that way. Her own - yes, but not her sister's.
As a standalone novel, I'd give it five stars, but the lack of continuity between books makes the difference between a good series and a great series. Three and a half stars, which I will round up to four.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Arthur W. Jordin
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The Thirteenth House (2006) is the second fantasy novel in the Twelve Houses series, following Mystic and Rider. In the previous volume, Senneth, Kirra, Tayse, Justin, Donnal, and Cammon left the south and journeyed to Ghosenhall to report to the King. After presenting their report, the group broke up and went their separate ways.
Queen Valri offered Cammon the use of a garden for the raelynx and visited the creature herself, even taking control of its mind for a while. The next day, Senneth took Cammon into the city to meet Jerril and Cammon agreed to spend some time learning from the mystic. Then Senneth met with the King and received the assignment of guarding the royal princess.
The King also asked Senneth to visit her brothers and suggested that she might wish to take a King's Rider with her. Senneth knew that the King was teasing her, but that he also was signaling his acceptance of her relationship with Tayse. That evening, Tayse and Senneth met outside the palace and he pledged to go wherever she went.
In this novel, Romar Brendyn -- the man selected as regnant for the king's daughter -- is abducted and taken to an almost deserted house on the edge of the Tilt domains. One of his escorts escapes and returns to Ghosenhall, reporting the kidnapping to King Baryn. Kirra, Donnal, Cammon and Justin are sent out to rescue the regnant.
Once in the isolated house, Kirra shapeshifts and visits the cell where Romar is held. She shapechanges some furnishings into useful escape tools. She also changes bars on the windows into weak wooden rods.
That night Romar breaks the rods, slithers down the rope and runs to the rendezvous in nearby woods. He is startled when Donnal -- in wolf form -- escorts him to the others, but doesn't slow down his pace. When Romar reaches the rescuers, he quickly mounts the spare horse and they gallop away.
Close to Merrenstow, the party encounters an armed group of Romar's retainers looking for him. They hand off Romar to his own men and prepare to leave. Romar doesn't want Kirra to travel with such a small escort, but she insists.
In this story, Kirra and Donnal return to Danan Hall in Danalustrous for her sister Casserah's coming of age party. Before the party, her father Malcolm tells Kirra that he is designating Casserah as his heir. Since Kirra is the eldest child, she is puzzled and hurt for a moment, but then realizes that her acceptance of becoming the heir is due only to her sense of responsibility. Like her mother, Kirra would much rather be free to wander as she pleases and soon wholeheartedly agrees with her father.
Casserah is very much like her father. She has his landsense and is dedicated to the domain. She has always been reluctant to leave home for any reason, but now she should make herself known to the lords of other domains. Malcolm and Kirra encourage her to attend the upcoming circuit of seasonal balls, but Casserah flatly refuses. Instead, they agree that Kirra will attend in the guise of Casserah. She might even find a husband for the heir.
Thus, Kirra returns to Ghosenhall as Casserah, with only a small entourage. Of course, Donnal accompanies her, usually in the guise of a large dog. Casserah's maid Melly is included to advise Kirra on the clothing that Casserah would wear. Naturally, a pair of guards go along as her escort.
In Ghosenhall, Kirra-as-Casserah joins the ladies in the royal party. Queen Valri and Princess Amalie are planning a royal progression to introduce the lords and ladies to the formerly reclusive royal heir. Senneth accompanies Amalie as her bodyguard. Naturally, Tayse and Justin, together with two more King's Riders and twenty soldiers, are going along to provide further protection for the party.
Romar doesn't recognize Kirra at first, but soon learns her identity. He courts her and she eventually gives in to his advances. Although aware of his married state, she follows her desires and is soon spending the nights with him. Her friends all warn her that she is setting herself up for heartaches, but she doesn't want to give up Romar.
This story continues to uncover plots against King Baryn. Lestra Coralinda appears at the ball in Coravann. Her brother Halchon Gisseltess -- who is supposed to be interdicted in Gissel Plain -- shows up at the ball in Nocklyn. And Romar is attacked several times during the circuit.
Kirra also encounters red-horse fever in her travels. The illness often strikes children and causes great pain. Although able to relieve the disease symptoms for a short time, Kirra has found no way to cure the ailment.
Princess Amalie remains a mystery in this volume, although the story does bring out her unusual lack of fear and her habit of voicing outrageous responses to ordinary politic remarks. Senneth and Kirra are beginning to like the girl, but agree that she needs to gain more experience. However, they are still puzzled about her personal views and attitudes. Queen Valri is also a puzzle, but they do know that she is terrified by the risks that Amalie faces.
Highly recommended for Shinn fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of shapeshifting mystics, traitorous intrigue, and unwise romance.
-Arthur W. Jordin