Gillengaria has long been peacefully ruled by the royal family, assisted by the marlords of each of the Twelve Houses, each of which has its own colours, loyal retainers, and characteristics. King Baryn was much loved, but after the death of the queen he isolated his heir, Princess Amalie. He has since remarried, but nobody knows the background of the new queen, Valri, and since their marriage the king has seemed besotted by her, becoming reclusive himself. Rumours have arisen, alleging that the new queen is a mystic, that the king is frail, that there is no suitable heir to the throne. And alongside these are stories of mystics being persecuted, despite a royal degree that they be tolerated.
In response to these whisperings, King Baryn has dispatched Senneth to investigate - a powerful mystic with the ability to generate fire, Senneth answers to no one but her king. She is accompanied by two other mystics - Kirra, a shape-changing healer, daughter of the House of Danalustrous; her faithful, shape-shifting retainer Donnal; and two of the King's best Riders, young Justin, who distrusts mystics on principle, and Tayse, whose distrust is particularly strong for Senneth. Together this unlikely band are to travel through Gillengaria, gathering information about the source and danger of these rumours.
This new series by the author of the fabulous Archangel takes place on a wholly different world but is at least as textured, nuanced and meticulously crafted as Samaria. World building is one thing, but novels live through their characters and are driven by their plots - and Shinn's creations are flawless. I find myself struggling to articulate specific points of interest because the elements are so seamlessly interwoven, from the insidious and sinister growing power of a fanatical cult, to the exploration of the dynamics of the land itself. The tensions between the team diminish over time, as each of them learns to rely upon the rest, and there's a romance that is subtle and convincing.
I was so absorbed into the world of Gillengaria that I stayed up until 3AM to finish Mystic and Rider, and then borrowed the second novel of the twelve houses the following morning. I've thoroughly enjoyed the Samaria novels, but have to force myself not to devour this series, and my avarice is tempered only by the knowledge that once they're read there are no more. - Alex
The Twelve Houses series
1. Mystic and Rider
2. The Thirteenth House
3. Dark Moon Defender
4. Reader and Raelynx
5. Fortune and Fate