Monday, January 12, 2009

Fortune & Fate; Sharon Shinn

This is the most recent in Ms. Shinn’s Twelve Houses series, released in November of 2008 by Ace Books. I do not recommend reading this without reading the previous books in the series. This is the first book in the series that deals with a person outside the initial group of friends featured in the previous titles. The Twelve Houses series is a fantasy with an overarching plot that continues through all of the books, one that involves the political and ruling classes of Gillengaria. Riven by religious strife and political sectarianism, Gillengaria is tentatively making peace within it's own borders. Young Queen Amalie sits uneasily atop her throne overseeing the mending of her country.

Former King’s Rider Wen has fled the capitol after King Baryn’s death and the subsequent war for the throne. Suffering from survivor’s guilt, she has determined to roam Gillengaria saving those in dire need. In a tiny inn in an even smaller village, Wen comes across Karryn Fortunalt, teenage heiress in the ruling family of the province of Fortunalt. Wen rescues Serramara Karryn from a kidnapping and returns her to her court appointed guardian, one Jasper Paladar. Paladar, seeing Wen’s training and military prowess, hires her on a month to month basis for the purpose of hiring, equipping and training new guards in the Serramara’s force.
Wen is wary of forming any kind of attachment to people or places since the King’s death. She reminded me of a half feral animal- wary and easily spooked by people yet longing to be befriended. Jasper Paladar manages to convince Wen to stay in part by nightly playing an ongoing warlike strategy game, similar to chess. They have daily meetings and frequent skirmishes over the game as Wen manages to find and train Karryn’s new guards. Wen’s inner wounds are slowly, finally beginning to knit together- just a little. Meantime, odd things happen to Karryn. Jasper and Wen must work in concert to protect her.

Fortune and Fate is as much the story of Karryn’s coming of age as it is the story of how Jasper becomes Wen’s healing agent. It has less to do with the political situation in Gillengaria than previous Twelve Houses titles. Predominantly Fortune and Fate deals with the Fortunalt household: Karryn and Jasper and Wen- whose full name is actually Willawendiss. Like Sarah Monette’s short story A Gift of Wings in The Queen in WInter, F&F is a love story that explores the quality and healing power of a relationship when one of the parties suffers with post traumatic stress and survivor’s guilt. Between the academic Jasper Paladar and the prickly, increasingly bewildered Wen a tentative and fragile relationship grows.

It was interesting to read the interactions between Jasper and Wen. I almost felt as though the male and female character traits were reversed. Meaning simply that Jasper is very very different from the men Wen has known well in the past & this difference works to their advantiage. Jasper is attuned to his feelings, and Wen’s. He has the deeper education and the longer vision necessary to a man whose life requires him to stay a step or two ahead of the rest. Wen is literate but as a professional soldier is a physical thinker, whose view of life is colored by her training and military experiences.

There were several scenes which really resonated with the romantic part of me: the scene where Jasper coaxes Wen to dance with him in the hall, telling her that waltzing is far easier to learn than fighting; when they have sex for the first time they savor each other tenderly and slowly, respectfully and knowingly; and in one of the most wrenching scenes involving Wen’s past catching up with her present Jasper doesn’t burden her with his own emotional needs and fears, instead he asks about her well being and healing and what she’s thinking. A mature man who realizes that to hold the woman he loves he must help her to feel free.

Overall, a very satisfying addition to the Twelve Houses series. As I mentioned above, I don’t recommend reading it first or alone, it won’t translate well and the depth of the character relationships won’t seem as deep.

Image found on Fantastic Fiction

No comments: