And with that out of the way, here's my old review of Sharon Shinn's Fortune and Fate (Twelve Houses). I hope you like it:)
It's been a while since I've had the pleasure of reading a book from Sharon Shinn's Twelve Houses series. And when I recently remembered my still plastic-wrapped copy of Fortune and Fate bundled in an out of the way corner of my room, I felt a familiar thrill of excitement at the thought of venturing into Shinn's fantasy world of Gillengaria once more.
I'd read the first four books of the series some time back and loved all of them. The stories of Gillengaria's mix of defenders, first introduced in Shinn's Mystic and Rider, were continued in The Thirteenth House, Dark Moon Defender, and Reader and Raelynx. Though those first books in Shinn's series are perhaps stronger than her latest, I did find in Fortune and Fate a kind of warm coming home that I didn't even know I'd been missing.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead)
In Fortune and Fate, one finds the story of Wen, a King's Rider (one of the personal guard of Gillengaria's royalty), who is dealing with guilt over surviving an attack in which her King Baryn fell to the enemy. Searching for a way to atone for her failure to protect her King, she leaves the Riders and wanders a Gillengaria newly surfacing from war.
Honour and loyalty are the backdrop to Wen's struggle to find redemption; she couldn't save her King, but she'll damn well save everyone else who needs saving, whether or not she dies in the process. In fact, maybe she wants to die because—to Wen's thinking—no honourable Rider should survive her King's death.
As Wen travels bandit-ridden Fortunalt, her gradual acceptance of her right to experience happiness, love and a new purpose in life is kickstarted once she saves a kidnapped girl (Karryn Fortunalt). It is Karryn who leads Wen to take on a position in the estate of Fortune, which soon becomes a rich backdrop to her search for redemption.
Belonging to the House of Fortunalt (and from which, ironically, stemmed the rebellion which resulted in the death of Gillengaria's King to begin with), Fortune is the home of Fortunalt's heiress (Karryn) and Regent (Karryn's uncle, Jasper Palader). It's Jasper who—impressed by Wen's skill in protecting his niece—persuades a reluctant Wen to form and train the House's personal guard. And thus does her new journey begin.
Along with themes of honour and guilt, Shinn's story explores the importance of family (and finding a home) to help a person heal and find themselves again. Does Fortune and its inhabitants bring Wen solace, renew her confidence in her worth as a soldier? I have to salute Shinn for keeping the focus on Wen's journey with relative ease, so that we actually want to find out the answer to the question above.
I must say that the beauty of Shinn's writing in this particular story didn't lie in the open conflicts and action-packed sequences that have been strongly present in the previous books. Not that Fortune and Fate doesn't have its share of conflict and action. It does . . . but in a quieter way perhaps; an internal way—a softer way that aptly portrays Wen's internal turmoil with sensitivity and grace. The focus of the story is one of personal redemption, and Shinn wisely allows new characters to reach out to Wen and assist her to move forward while enriching Shinn's already stellar cast of characters.
The character of Fortunalt's Regent, Jasper Paladar, was one that I found well drawn out. His courteous but clever methods to help Wen come to terms with whom she is and what she truly wants out of life made for insightful (and at times humorous) reading. Jasper's attempt to rebuild Fortunalt after the war while caring for his rebellious niece, Karryn, was also given a three dimensional rendering that added depth to the story.
The contrasting views of soldier and philosopher on protecting Fortune and its heiress were perhaps painted rather too stereoptypically for my taste, but provided a rich context from which to understand Wen and Jasper's psychological make-up. The potential to find middle-ground between their very different personalities and positions in society was handled plausibly by Shinn and led smoothly into a relationship that was a pleasure to read.
Karryn Fortunalt was perhaps not drawn out as fully as I'd have liked, but she was an innocent, mutinous counterpoint to Wen's stern and experienced/cynical view of the world—it was often a relief to experience her youthful view of life in comparison to, say, Wen's or Jasper's.
One of the more delightful characters in the book was of course Karryn's love interest, the mischievous and wistfully aimless Ryne, whose careless behaviour might just prove to be Karryn's destruction. The two orphaned siblings Wen saves, and whose names sadly escape me at the moment, are two more characters that I couldn't help thinking could be fleshed out to greater purpose in later stories.
Ultimately, I can't say that Fortune and Fate is the best amongst the Twelve Houses series, but it's definitely a good read. Perhaps my slight feeling of dissatisfaction stems from the fact that I was expecting a story with familiar characters and was disappointed not to find them. But if Shinn's intention was to move her world beyond the familiar medley of players into other stories, other characters, this newer view of Gillengaria and its dangerous politics does, I think, succeed admirably. Certainly, Fortune and Fate is for me a welcome addition to an intriguing fantasy world.
For readers of high fantasy who are looking for something with an emphasis on characterisation and relationships, do give Shinn's Twelve Houses series a try. For the sake of continuity, I'd recommend Mystic and Rider to start with (my personal favourites are Mystic and Rider and Reader and Raelynx), but each of the books do stand on their own.