Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sharon Shinn's The Twelve Houses

I just finished reading all the books published so far in Sharon Shinn's The Twelve Houses series. Sharon Shinn is a wonderful author of fantasy/science fiction books. Her Samaria series which begins with Jovah's Angel is fabulous too.

The stories are set in the country of Gillengaria, which is made up of twelve territories run by major and minor families. The time period is pre-industrial with vassals and what-not. The first four books have a connected and continuing story arc about a period of rebellion and revolution in the southern territories.

The fantasy element of the story is that some of the people of Gillengaria are "mystics" or have magic. The book's main characters are Senneth; a mystic who can control fire and heal; Tayse; a King's Rider--the ultimate soldier dedicated to the King; Kirra; a mystic who can shape change; Donnal-a mystic who can shape change--vassal to Kirra; Justin; a King's Rider recruited by Tayse, and Cammon-a mystic who can read other people's feelings and thoughts. The core group are present in all the books. They are the ensemble cast of the series, so to speak.

The first book, Mystic and Rider is about the group's adventures in the southern region gathering Intel for the King about the rebellion and the rise of a new religious order which persecutes mystics. The bulk of the story is told from Senneth and Tayse's points of view.
Senneth and Tayse end up in love--so Shinn throws in a little romance, which I always enjoy.

The second book, The Thirteenth House is Kirra's story. The rebellion is gathering momentum and the King's choice for a regent for his teenage daughter is kidnapped. This is a bittersweet book because Kirra falls in love with the regent and begins an affair with him. He's married though and it can't and doesn't end happily from that point of view but it was a great story.

Dark Moon Defender, is the story of Justin's undercover investigation into the religious order Daughters of the Pale Moon. He has some exciting times while separated from the group. He too, falls in love with an utterly unsuitable novice in the order. The rest of the group are accompaning Princess Amalie on a tour of some of the territories.

The final book in the story arc, Reader and Raelynx is Cammon's story. He is given the job of protecting Amalie and helping to choose a husband for her by reading the intentions of the various suitors. Unfortunately, he and Amalie spend so much time together that THEY fall in love. The war breaks out in earnest and the King is killed. The book comes to a terrible and powerful conclusion--but happy--for those who insist on such things. (And I do.)

I think Shinn intended to finish the series with Reader. I have not insider knowledge, but I think that this world was just too good to leave. The next, but hopefully not last book is Fortune and Fate. It is something of a stand-alone book. It is about Wen, a King's Rider who appeared in the previous books as a secondary character. Senneth, Tayse and the gang all show up in this book but they are not the focus of it. After four books you might assume all those southern factions that rebelled against the King were evil--but this book shows the aftermath. The people left behind who were damaged and how they recover.

I enjoyed every one of these books. In fact, I stayed up way too late trying to finish a couple of them which accounts for my obsession with sleep this week. Any book that keeps you reading because you just have to know what happens next, even when you have an early faculty meeting is a good book. I really cared about the characters and I wanted everyone to be happy and to survive. Shinn made me worry that they might not all survive which certainly added tension! I highly recommend the series and I award it a five out of five stars.