Mystic and Rider by Sharon Shinn
Rating: 3.75 stars
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "Gillengaria seethes with unrest. In the south, hostility toward magic and its users has risen to a dangerous level, though King Baryn has ordered that such mystics are to be tolerated. It is whispered that he issued the decree because his new wife used her magic powers to ensnare him… The King knows there are those in the noble Twelve Houses who could use this growing dissent to overthrow him. So he dispatches the mystic Senneth to assess the threat throughout the realm. Accompanying her is a motley band of magic-users and warriors including Tayse, first among the King’s Riders—who holds a hard view of mystics in general, and Senneth in particular.
But as the unlikely allies venture farther into the south, they will face death in a land under the sway of a fanatical cult that would purge Gillengaria of all magic users. And they will come to realize that their only hope of survival lies in standing together…"
Review: I keep going back and forth between three and four stars. This high fantasy book has a better aftertaste than it has flavor, if you know what I mean. I'm liking it more and more upon reflection, but while I was reading I kept getting disgruntled at how slow the pace of this book was. It's nice to read a slow book every once in a while, though. They often stay with you longer. But at times it hard to keep going.
All the characters were wonderful, as always happens in Shinn's books. Senneth was a calmer protagonist, whose fury is not raised unless it's faced with extreme injustice, ignorance, or cruelty. When it is raised, though, she is a Force To Be Reckoned With. I kind of wished she would loose her temper more often, since those scenes were the most charged and breathtaking moments in the book. I loved how her motley band became unlikely allies, and how they trusted and defended each other by the end.
I loved the political intrigue, loved Cammon's power, loved the set-up of a kingdom consisting of twelve houses (states), loved the magic system and the conflicting feelings towards magic by the various characters, and loved learning about the secrets each character held. And I really loved the raelynx.
I didn't love the lack of rising action. Much of the book was slow. After they went to a handful of villages in a row, intending to remain inconspicuous, but then doing something to draw attention to themselves (saving a girl's life, ridding a village of an unseen terror, etc.) it became a bit predictable. It was obvious for a long time who the Bad Guys were and what they were doing, so I wasn't sure why Senneth and co. didn't just turn around and report the unrest to the king. It felt more contrived than natural that they continue their journey south, when they already knew everything they needed to know. However, the last few chapters in Ghosenhall were really excellent, and those chapters alone make me want to continue this series.
Lastly, I want to highlight a few phrases that I think illustrate Shinn's elegant and poetic prose. Her word choice is a large reason why I like her as an author so much, so I can't help but want to share some of these lovely sentence:
While attending a wedding among those in the Thirteenth House (those just below the upper class): "There was what seemed to Senneth a desperate air of gaiety, as if all these second-tier noblemen and their scheming wives were pretending to be at an elegant ball at one of the Twelve Houses."
While attempting to train the raelynx: "She sat there unmoving for more than an hour, relaxed as she could be while waiting for a wild animal to try to kill her. She liked the deep stillness of an untenanted night, the pervasive cold that seemed to take corporeal form and lean against her like an affectionate child. She liked the utter blackness of the sky, the stars like spilled sugar across an unswept floor. She liked being alone."
During a conversation about one character's past: "His smile was rather small and painful. 'Perhaps I am just still numb. I have come to believe there are no safe harbors. I am just grateful when there is not a storm raging over my head at that very moment.'"
Bottom Line: A solid start to a high fantasy series. Fantasy regulars will find the traveler's journey to be reminiscent to other high fantasy novels like The Wheel of Time and The Hobbit, and will enjoy the well defined characters, the magic system, and the political intrigue, though some might get frustrated at the slow pace.