Monday, October 11

Fortune and Fate – Sharon Shinn

The war against the crown was hard-fought, and won at a great price – King Baryn was slain, and his mystic daughter now leads Gillengaria. Peace is cause for relief and joy for most of the country, but for King’s Rider Wen, Baryn’s death and her survival mean she was unfit for her role. She should have died defending him, and being severely wounded doesn’t count. So she has exiled herself from the region and the people she loves. She wanders Gillengaria, working as a bodyguard for hire and aiding strangers in distress, and moving on whenever she starts to feel comfortable. The first disruption comes when Wen sees a marlady in distress at an inn and comes to her aid – Kerryn is the under-age serramarra of Fortunalt, and has been kidnapped by a suitor more interested in her title than herself. Wen returns her to Fortune castle, and the lax protection of her uncle and guardian, the bookish Jasper Paladar. With a few choice observations about the marked lapses in adequate security, Wen leaves, but keeps being drawn back to Forten City despite her intentions. Coming to the assistance of a half-starved young boy, Wen evades a trap only to find herself connected to a pair of abused siblings reluctant to let her leave. And almost before she knows how it happened, Wen becomes connected – first to the children, then to the serramarra, and finally to Jasper Paladar. The fifth in the Twelve Houses series, Fortune and Fate combines the story of Wen with the overarching plot of the series. The focus shifts from Wen’s unfolding narrative to events in the capital, where we rejoin Queen Amalie, her mystic consort Cammon, and the Queen’s Riders. Though the war has been won, the aftermath is far from resolved, and Cammon decides to take a preliminary journey before allowing Amalie to travel through Gillengaria, making herself known to her citizens. Nothing Cammon does, though, is ever as straightforward as it seems. Every aspect of this book is brilliant, from the nuanced, three-dimensional characterisation to the multiple, intertwined plots. There is a little extension of Shinn’s world building into neighbouring countries, but for the most part Gillengaria is world enough. The relationships of the previous series novels continue to mature and develop, most notably that of Cammon and Amalie, who are discovering new applications of their mystic powers. But it is the contrast between woman of action Wen and academic Jasper that I found most compelling, and the way Shinn portrays the effect they have on each other – Wen begins to enjoy reading for pleasure, and sees the usefulness of wider thinking and differences, while Jasper discovers strategies outside the sphere of board games, the necessity of action, and the complexities of defense. Tactics and strategy run through the novel, as characters and the author “lay out all the pieces in a manner that seemed completely random, and then, with a single move, destroy the unprepared opponent” and thoroughly entertain the reader. The writing has humour and lightness, which contrasts with sub-plots of betrayal and thirst for power, and every moment rings true. The romance is bumpy, the payoff truly satisfying, and the hero hot - “Japar Paladar kissed the way he talked, with subtle shades of nuance and an extensive vocabulary.” I tagged multiple pages that had examples I wanted to include, but after several drafts I realise that I really can’t do Fate and Fortune justice, though I’ve certainly tried – I even reread the novel after a month, which was a pleasure but not something I generally do, because there are so many books and so little time in which to read them. One thing I will reproduce is Wen’s advice to Karryn about ensuring loyal service – “feed them well, pay them on time, never put them in unnecessary danger, and treat them with respect,” which strikes me as a suggestion employers in all industries would do well to follow. I have no doubt that Fate and Fortune would be enjoyable to readers new to Shinn, and it’s certainly accessible to anyone unfamiliar with the four previous novels, but the depth of satisfaction I felt came in no small part from reuniting with old friends, seeing the story lines extend, and building on a universe I already knew well. For maximum enjoyment I recommend starting with the first Twelve Houses novel and working joyfully down the list. - Alex

1. Mystic and Rider

2. The Thirteenth House
3. Dark Moon Defender
4. Reader and Raelynx
5. Fortune and Fate

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