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Troubled Waters [Hardcover]

Sharon Shinn
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 5 2010
The author of the Twelve Hours series welcomes readers to a new fantasy world, where the elements rule.

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.


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About the Author

Sharon Shinn is a journalist who works for a trade magazine. Her first novel, The Shapechanger's Wife, was selected by  Locus as the best first fantasy novel of 1995. She has won the William C. Crawford Award for Outstanding New Fantasy Writer, and was twice nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. A graduate of Northwestern University, she has lived in the Midwest most of her life.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

Navarr Ardelay's body was laid to rest in a blazing pyre, as befit a sweela man who owed his allegiance to flame. Zoe stood numbly within the circle of mourners, unable to speak, as she watched her father burn away to ashes. Even as he had wasted away for this past quintile, growing thinner, more frail, uncharacteristically querulous with pain, she hadn't really believed he would die. How could there be a world in which Navarr Ardelay did not exist?

She was so cold that not even the leaping flames could chase away her chill; the weak winter sunlight offered no warmth at all. Doman hovered close, his hand always half-outstretched. Zoe wondered if he thought to catch her when she fainted or to yank her back if she attempted to throw herself into the fire. Doman was the unofficial leader of this little village; he made himself responsible for the well-being of every soul in the small cluster of houses, and he had been tireless in his efforts to ease Navarr's passage out of this life. He had even sent to Chialto for surprisingly effective medicines that would soothe pain and keep the mind clear. Navarr had been awake and lucid as recently as two days ago, continuing to dictate to Zoe how he wanted her to distribute his few items of any worth.

"Doman must have anything he wants from the house, of course," her father had said late that night. "He will probably choose my desk or fountain."

That had caused Zoe to look up in surprise. "But—I want to keep both of those."

Navarr had lain back against the pillows, his face thin and drawn, his body weak, but his mind, as always, working working working. "It will be too much trouble to transport them."

She was even more surprised. "I'm not going anywhere."

His eyes were closed. "Of course you are. It is time you remembered that you are part of your mother's family as well."

She had not bothered to answer that because, as soon as he spoke the words, he was asleep again.

And because she was too astonished.

He spoke of her mother rarely, and her mother's family not at all. He blamed the powerful Lalindar clan for his fall from grace ten years ago, for the long years of exile and poverty. Zoe didn't even know if her grandmother was still alive, and which of her aunts or uncles or cousins would have inherited Christara Lalindar's title and property if the old woman was dead. Not that she cared. She would not be seeking any of them out, even if the unthinkable happened. Even if her father died. She doubted if any of them remembered her more clearly than she remembered them—or thought of her more often.

This village was her home now, this house the place where she belonged. She already knew, as her father lay there so quietly, that the tiny house would seem enormous once his spirit had flown it. She did not know how she could possibly fill its entire vast emptiness with her own limp and tired soul.


Zoe would have thought her father's body would sustain any flame for a quintile at least—his swift, questing, inexhaustible mind should have been fuel for a nineday all by itself—but in fact the fire began to die down sooner than she would have thought possible. Most of the villagers had lingered for about fifteen minutes and then drifted away, although three women who had been in love with Navarr at various times still stood weeping around the pyre. Zoe herself was prepared to stand here watching until her legs buckled under her, and then she planned to kneel before the fading embers until the world itself ended.

But Doman would have none of that. He put his hand on her shoulder, avuncular, insistent. "Come inside now," he said, nudging her away from the circle of stones, back toward the stand of houses. "The fire is almost out. It is time to go in."

"Not yet," she said, planting her feet.

He turned his free hand palm up. "It has started to rain," he said. So far the drops were thin and misty, hardly an inconvenience, but the pale sunlight had been blocked out by a slowly building mass of heavy gray clouds, and the air felt like it was gathering itself for a tantrum. "Your father would not want you to be drenched in the tears of the world for his sake."

Since this was true, she allowed him to turn her away from the pyre and lead her to her small, sad, utterly abandoned house.

Together they stepped into the kierten, the tiny room set just inside the door. In great houses, Zoe knew, a kierten might be enormous—a huge, echoing chamber big enough to accommodate fifty people. A kierten was always completely empty; it was a homeowner's way of saying he was so wealthy he could afford to waste space. Poor villagers could not make such a boast, of course, but none of them were so destitute that they did not have a kierten at their front doors.

Doman stepped into the main room right behind Zoe, and she glanced swiftly around to see the place through his eyes. She hadn't had much time to clean up the detritus of death, so the room was predictably messy. Bed linens were balled up on the floor, clothes and dishes were scattered across various surfaces, and books and papers were stacked in haphazard piles wherever she had tried to get them out of the way. A faint odor of rotting food drifted in from the only other room in the house—the small narrow kitchen that doubled as Zoe's bedroom. She hadn't had time to take her trash to the composting field for at least four days, perhaps longer.

"Would you like me to send Miela over to help you?" Doman asked. "You know she is a reasonably organized woman."

It was a small joke, but Zoe found herself incapable of smiling. Doman's wife was magnificently capable. She had raised ten children and served as a great maternal presence to everyone in the village, even Zoe's father, who had been the last man in the world in need of mothering.

"Thank you, no," Zoe said, speaking with an effort. "If I have something to occupy my hands, perhaps my heart won't hurt quite so much."

"You must come and spend the night with us, of course," he said.

Zoe shook her head. "No. Thank you, but no."

"Then Miela will come here to sleep."

She shook her head again, but it was reflex. She knew if Doman decided she should not be alone tonight, one way or the other, she would not be alone. Doman was all hunti, all wood, stubborn and immovable. It did not matter how much you leaned against Doman, how many burdens you piled on him; he would not change and he would not break.

The rain had started to fall with a bleak and heavy steadiness; it was the kind of rain that could go on for days. Even less light spilled in through the small, high windows of frosted glass, so Zoe stepped over a pile of soiled clothing to light a lamp. Instantly the clutter of the room was even more visible.

She made an indeterminate gesture to indicate the whole room. "My father wanted you to pick something to remember him by," she said. "Anything in the entire house."

It was a common enough tradition, a way for the living to remember the dead. Doman must have realized that he had been given the supreme honor of being the first to choose among Navarr's possessions, for he nodded once, suitably solemn. He was a tall man, thin and sinewy, with brown-bark skin and thick gray hair, and the colorful overrobe he had worn to the funeral made him look like some kind of oracle.

"I am happy to bring a piece of Navarr Ardelay into my own home," Doman said. "But I wouldn't want to take anything that you held especially dear."

"The things I want to keep I have already moved into my room," she said. "Take what you like."

Doman glanced at the carved desk—a huge, ungainly piece of furniture, bought five years ago from a peddler selling a strange assortment of quality merchandise from the back of his wagon. Next he studied the bronze fountain, a miniature replica of the one that played in the kierten of the royal palace. But then he stepped toward the back wall and pointed at the three pieces hanging over the rumpled bed.

"I would take the random blessings, if you could stand the loss," he said.

For the first time in four days, Zoe almost smiled. "Doman," she said. "Your trait is wood. And you covet the blessings of a man of fire?"

He indicated the first item hanging on the wall. It was a square of hammered copper, perhaps five by five inches, with the symbol for courage embossed in it from behind. He had no trouble summoning a smile. "That is a blessing that should fall on a hunti man," he said.

"True enough," she said.

"And endurance is a blessing for a torz woman, and Miela is certainly that," Doman added.

The symbol for endurance was the most beautiful of the three blessings, embroidered in shades of blue on a crisp white background and contained in a frame of carved wood. "Yes, I know Miela has always liked that piece," Zoe said.

Doman gestured at the third blessing, a stylized symbol vividly painted onto a long narrow bolt of stretched canvas. "And who could not use triumph in his life?" he asked. "I shall be the envy of everyone in the village."

Triumph was the rarest of the extraordinary blessings—everyone knew that—and Navarr had always considered it exquisitely ironic that it had been one of the gifts bestowed upon him at birth. Or perhaps the irony had only become clear to him during those last ten years of his life. Certainly, when he was younger, when he lived in Chialto and had the ear of King Vernon, he had been considered one of the most successful men of his generation. Maybe different blessings exe...


Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars An Intriguing New World. May 17 2014
By Hayley Cann TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
Zoe Ardelay has lived in exile with her father isince she was thirteen. Once a high ranking noble, her father lost favour with the King, and was forced to eke out a living in a remote village. In their land, elemental blessings are consulted for guidance, and balance between the elements is sought after for an harmonious life. When Zoe's father dies from illness, an emissary from the King announces she has been chosen to be his fifth wife. Deep mourning robs Zoe from her ability to care or even protest this reversal of fortune. But Zoe was born under the elemental blessing of water, and women of water are unpredictable. Will Zoe find her own way to restore balance to the court of the King?

I am rarely disappointed with Shinn. Even on a bad day, she makes an interesting intrigue and sympathetic characters. Zoe is no exception. She is an interesting and resourceful young woman. I did not like all of the main characters however and the court, outside of the four wives of the king seemed a little bland. On the other hand, the concept of the elemental blessings is very interesting and I can't wait to see how this turns out in future books.
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5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic! April 30 2012
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a great book. It is an exciting adventure story that had me on the edge of my seat. I absolutely loved the way she wrote her characters and I truly appreciated the fact that her female lead was believable and had a mind of her own, she was not a cookie cutter character. She was real and wonderful and unpredictable. I will be buying more books from this author. Highly recommend this book.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful escape Dec 27 2010
By Shane C
Format:Hardcover
Once again Sharon Shinn has drawn me into a fantastical world in which I would love to stay. The story of Zoe Ardelay was at once gripping, funny and romantic and her adventures and voyage of self discovery enthralling. Read the book all in one sitting in hopes that there may be more to come.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A promise of more I hope. Nov. 19 2010
Format:Hardcover
I am almost done reading this book. Once again miss Shinn has created a fantastic world and peopled it with loveable characters. I can only hope that this story is the first of a new series. I am sure that Zoe Ardelay is destined to have many more adventures. I am looking forward to more books from miss Shinn.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  79 reviews
47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Beginning to a New Series Oct. 7 2010
By L. Loyd - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'm a big Sharon Shinn fan, and this newest novel does not disappoint! Zoe Ardelay has been living in exile with her father since she was 13, and as the novel opens he has just passed away and a royal messenger arrives to bring her to the royal city and marry the king. In the new world of Welce that Shinn has created, there are 5 "traits" that must be in balance, and Zoe is of high birth and possesses the blood/water trait that is needed at the palace. As any reader of Shinn knows, though, her heroines rarely do exactly what they're supposed to. Zoe escapes from her escort and finds her own way once they reach the royal city, supporting herself while she figures out what she wants to do with the rest of her life. As is par for the course with Shinn, too, there is a love story arc woven in, though it is not the primary focus of the book. Zoe has to find her place as an aristocrat in this society, and unravel the mystery of why her father was banished and her mothers family cut all ties with her. (Or did they...)

While fans of the Twelve Houses series will find echoes of the same courtly intrigue and politicking, and while the world Zoe lives in reminded me quite a bit of the world of the Safekeepers Secret series (Shinn's lovely Young Adult trilogy), and even while Zoe herself brings to mind the contrariness of Tamar in "The Alleluia Files," the book is entirely separate from all of these. Rather than reading as a rehash of earlier work, it comes off as the best of Shinn's repertoire; she has really hit her stride.

One of my favorite parts of her novels has always been the background culture on which she structures her
storylines (the Gloria in the Samaria series, the solstice gatherings in the Safekeepers Secret series) and the in-depth background of this world is particularly charming--there are 'blessings' by which people guide their lives. Each child receives three blessings at birth that remain with them, while at any time one can visit a temple to pick a random blessing that is thought to give them divine guidance pertaining to thier lives at the moment. This is utilized in the novel both by showing how Zoe's life is shaped by her birth blessing of Power, and by her consultations periodically of the random temple blessings, but her blood/water trait (called Coru in the novel) leaves plenty of room for subsequent books pursuing other characters with different primary traits.

Bottom line: while some previous work has felt a little rushed ("Reader and Raelynx" struck me that way), this is a great stand-alone novel that also gives the reader hope for several new novels in this fascinating world.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Wooden Characters and Contrived Plot Feb. 21 2011
By M. Gregory - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I went into this book with high hopes as I like quite a bit of Sharon Shinn's work and enjoy fantasy novels with less war games and more political intrigue. However, I was really disappointed in this book and can only hope that if others follow, Shinn actually tries to develop her characters.

I won't go into the plot too much, as it has already been dissected a dozen times. I will say, however, that the characters Shinn chose to act out this often-written storyline - someone (a poor, common, or outsider someone) is brought to the court as an heir/a wife/a person of great power - were wooden and two-dimensional. I felt that there was little effort put into trying to develop any of the characters beyond stock stereotypes. Each of the king's wives was a caricature - almost as if you propped up some of Henry VIII's wives and exaggerated them. The main character was given to ridiculous bouts of temper, which ultimately offered resolution at the novel's end. And this was such a slipshod way to handle the story (honestly, how could Zoe's irrational - if not entirely unwarranted - lashing out been allowed at any court?) - as well as improbable. Also, the romance seemed contrived and, personally, I cared little for Darien.

However, this novel's saving grace and the reason, I believe, that it has garnered so many stars and the reason why I would read a sequel, is that the world Shinn has developed is quite intricate and interesting. Her religion has been well thought out, is believable and tangible. I liked the kingdom, and I even enjoyed the backstory. I feel that the problem with Troubled Waters is that it relied so heavily on the surrounding world that the characters and storyline were never fully developed. Hopefully, subsequent novels will have more ingenuity in their characters and plots.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Audio version Jan. 13 2011
By Kat Hooper - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Zoe Ardelay and her father, once the king's closest advisor, have been in exile for ten years. After her father dies, the king's new advisor, Darien Serlast, shows up in Zoe's village to escort her back to court because she's been chosen to be the king's fifth wife. At first Zoe is numb with grief and shock, but by the time they reach the capital city her "water" personality asserts itself and she begins to flow around the obstacles in her way -- obstacles such as Darien himself, a man of "wood" who's strong, stubborn, and immovable.

Filled with vivid characters, beautiful scenery, sweet friendships, surprising destinies, political intrigue, mystery, a slow satisfying romance, and an interesting take on personality types, Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn is a book that just feels good. I listened to the audio version produced by Audible Frontiers and read by Jennifer Van Dyck. It was 14 hours long, but I enjoyed it so much that I finished it over a weekend, which kind of annoyed my family. I even considered trying to extract myself from a couple of social engagements so I could spend time with Zoe instead.

Troubled Waters is definitely a romance -- and some of the verbal sparring felt a bit contrived, as if set up just to create that tension -- yet mostly the romance brews in the background as Zoe navigates her way through her changed world. Some readers won't believe in the romance, and others might feel that things work out too easily for Zoe, but I enjoyed this low-stress novel. It features a strong and likable heroine, a love-interest who's my kind of guy, a diverse supporting cast, a leisurely pace, and it focuses on a variety of human relationships. It is likely to appeal mostly to women.

Troubled Waters can be read as a satisfying stand-alone story, but there may be more books to come. If so, I'll definitely be picking them up. Meanwhile, I'll be trying out some more novels by Sharon Shinn.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite as good as Mystics and Riders series Oct. 12 2010
By Anne Doherty - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Some of my favorite fantasy novels were the Mystics and Riders series. And I was expecting a lot from Troubled Waters, because Sharon Shinn created such realistic and engaging characters in that series, with plots that were both character and action driven. In Troubled Waters, I felt that the main character was hard to relate to. The decisions that Zoe made didn't seem consistent (even given that her character, governed by water, was supposed to be changeable). Zoe felt contrived to me. Also, although there was much detailed description, the story didn't come alive. It seem a lot of the author's focus was to develop the underpinnings of the world she was creating in this series (I'm assuming it will be a series). On the plus side, the concepts of the novel were extremely interesting. There are many fine characters, and a rich world in which to spin new plots. I can imagine the next book could be amazingly engaging and entertaining.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A novel so calm it becomes dull as a doornail Dec 28 2011
By Lilly Flora - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
I've always been a huge fan of Sharon Shinn- her stand- alone novels in particular. So after her latest series was over I was really looking forward to reading "Troubled Waters." But this book is just so dull. I have never read anything that held my interest less or which less happened or in which the characters were less interesting. I know I'm being harsh but I can't help it. It's just so dull.

I suppose you could also describe it as extremely calm. In every way.

Shinn has created a new universe in which the people believe very firmly that five basic elements (air, wood, fire, water, earth) and three random `blessings' ( virtues stamped on coins and picked after the birth of an infant) govern their lives and define them as people. There are those who are especially drawn to an element and may have some control it, all heads of the five most important families in town. They are called Primes.

The story begins when, just after her father's funeral, Zoe Ardelay, is informed that she is to be the king's next bride. Because her father, once the kings advisor, had been exiled years before from the capital this makes little sense to Zoe and when given the opportunity she runs away to live on the banks of the river, which always gives her comfort.

Soon it is decided that Zoe, is in fact, the water prime. This position gives her immense power, not only over water but also in her personal life and politically.

There is basically no plot to this book. There are two or three exciting scenes but they aren't written in a way to make the reader excited. It's just too dull. Reading this was like being trapped in a dust cloud. There's too much detail and too little at the same time, not enough dialog and preternaturally calm characters who can't speak normally and seem to always have a speech composed in their heads to give at the next opportune moment.

I hate giving a bad review to a book by an author I normally love the books of, but I had to force myself to finish it. This book was badly written. Very little plot, annoying characters and minimal action made for a bad combination.

Two stars. I hope this isn't going to be a series- I'd love to read more Shinn writes if she comes up with something new.
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