Royal Airs by Sharon Shinn
Rating: 3.5 stars
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "Master storyteller Sharon Shinn created the thrilling and enchanting world of Welce in her acclaimed novel "Troubled Waters." Return with her to that elemental universe in this tale of secrecy, romance, and a battle for power...
Josetta is a princess of one of the Five Families. But she is far from the throne, so she is free to spend her days working in the poorest sections of the city.
Rafe Adova, an outcast since he was born, lives the life of a career gambler in those slums. He has no ambition other than cheating at the card tables—until the night he decides to help a girl named Corene, who looks like she's stumbled into the wrong bar. She, too, is a princess—sister to Josetta, who finds her with Rafe. He fascinates her.
Josetta has never encountered anyone like him—someone seemingly devoid of elemental blessings. He is drawn to her, though he thinks they are unlikely to ever meet again—but their connection grows strong when she nurses him back to health after he is assaulted by foreign mercenaries. And when they learn the reason he's being hunted, they know that the truth about his history could endanger not only their love but also their very lives..."
Review: I actually read this a few weeks ago. It's taken me some time to sort out my thoughts on this one. I think I'm finally ready to confess that I like Sharon Shinn's elegant narrative style much more than I like this particular story.
Let me be honest: I LOVE Shinn's brand of writing. Her vocabulary is impressive, and is on full display in her work. She makes me feel smarter just for reading her. Her world building is extensive and so well thought out. Her characters are diverse and memorable. Her plotting is still a tad too slow for me, but not without depth. I still like Shinn. And I LOVED this book's prequel, Troubled Waters. I just thought this book was not quite representative of what Shinn is capable of.
I think the problem lies with the protagonist, Josetta. To be honest, I really liked Josetta. She's an elay girl, meaning she is most closely aligned to the element of air. She is kind and graceful, with a strong inner spirituality. It's nice to read about a girl who is calm and pensive and stable. (We can't all be Beatrice Priors or Katniss Everdeens.) Now that Josetta's position in the kingdom is less tenuous, she's free to let her inner altruism fly in the slums of the city's capital, which is how she meets Rafe. (Cue Marvin Gaye.) Josetta was a lovely character. But this story isn't about her at all, nor does it really involve her all that much, besides tangentially. It's Rafe's story, more than anything. Josetta did very little to move the plot forward. She just worked to provide for the poor (a fabulous goal, but irrelevant to the plot) and swooned over Rafe. Her chapters, while containing some beautiful writing, left me wondering when we would get to the point.
Rafe's story is well written and intriguing, but pretty predictable. His lack of elemental blessings might not be a big deal in our world, but in Welce it's huge. The question of his identity was forefront to this story, and, despite its predictability, was far more exciting than reading about his adventures flying elay-motives. The question of rulership in Welce was my favorite part to read about, though. I love a good political battle. But that question never got settled. That question, and the story as a whole, ended rather abruptly. It looks like we won't get closure until book three is released. Really, most of this story felt like build up for the third book rather than its own cohesive story.
Reading this over, I think it sounds like I liked this book a lot less than I actually did. I absolutely loved the scenes that featured Zoe. I also really warmed to Corene, who I didn't pay much attention to in the first book. I loved the worldbuilding. I loved hearing about the Primes' abilities and watching how they used their abilities to solve the kingdom's problems. The dialogue throughout the story was phenomenal, especially when Kayle Dochenza was involved. Filomara was an excellent new character. So I really did enjoy reading this, and would recommend it to others who read and enjoyed Troubled Waters. But I do think that the prequel was stronger than this one. Still, I'm greatly looking forward to the third book in the series, and dearly hope it doesn't take three more years before it's released!!