Size Doesn’t Matter (142): Troubled Waters; Royal Airs

Size Doesn’t Matter (142): Troubled Waters; Royal AirsTroubled Waters by Sharon Shinn
Series: Elemental Blessings #1
Published by Ace on October 5, 2010
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
AmazonThe Book DepositoryAudible
Goodreads
four-stars

The author of the Twelve Hours series welcomes readers to a new fantasy world, where the elements rule.

Zoe Ardelay receives astonishing and unwelcome news: she has been chosen to become the king's fifth wife. Forced to go to the royal city, she manages to slip away and hide on the shores of the mighty river.

It's there that Zoe realizes she is a coru prime ruled by the elemental sign of water. She must return to the palace, not as an unwilling bride for the king, but a woman with power in her own right. But as Zoe unlocks more of the mysteries of her blood—and the secrets of the royal family—she must decide how to use her great power to rise above the deceptions and intrigue of the royal court.

I finished my first Sharon Shinn novel, Summers at Castle Auburn, a fortnight ago. The novel impressed me with its strong voice, simplicity coupled with surprising depth, and scintillating shippiness. Troubled Waters features many of these hallmarks, but, in a more distant third person limited narrative, doesn’t shine quite as brightly as Summers at Castle Auburn.

The world building in Troubled Waters very much does impress. Readers who are more world building-oriented rather than character-focused will likely prefer this novel. One thing I found fascinating about this fantasy world is that it doesn’t clearly match any particular culture I know of, and the basic foundations of their worlds differ in some large, basic ways: they have nine day weeks and five seasons. Not to mention the fact that people have an affinity for one or two of the five elements: air, water, earth, fire, wood, which informs their personality. And, if you’re the prime of your element, you have access to a fuckton of magic.

Troubled Waters is a good novel from start to finish, but the first half has incredibly slow pacing. The book’s description actually covers the full first half of the book. Zoe doesn’t realize her powers for quite some time. She lives as a vagrant for a while. Then she works at a shoe store. Everything is told in quite a lot of detail. It’s lightly entertaining but also very easy to put down to return to later. The last half of the book flies by, though.

Zoe has a great character arc, but it too plays into the slowness of the start. At the novel’s opening, Zoe’s beloved father has just died. She spends half of the book essentially shut off from her emotions, a still pond, rather than the raging river she will become towards the end. Zoe’s a fierce, passionate person, but she doesn’t show that for a long time. It’s a realistic and powerful portrayal of the effects grief can have, but she spends a lot of time being mild and placid. Both of those are sides of her (and her water element), but I definitely feel more affection for the fiery Zoe of the end.

Once the plot gets going, it’s fascinating, and there are elements that remind me of Summers at Castle Auburn. Shinn excels at writing fantasies that have a fluffy feel, but surprising depths; heroines get away with doing some things that are a moral dark grey, which I absolutely love. The political and high society machinations are endlessly fascinating, written with wit and subtle humor. The ship too, which, as with everything else, only really starts moving at about the halfway point (though I shipped it from the first meeting) is excellent too. I’d have loved more scenes between Zoe and Darien, because yes to this but there’s not quite enough of them together to push the book into the massively feelsy range.

Troubled Waters further cements Sharon Shinn as an author whose books I must devour as soon as possible. I’m so excited to see that the next book is Josetta’s, as I’d been hoping it would be.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 

Size Doesn’t Matter (142): Troubled Waters; Royal AirsRoyal Airs by Sharon Shinn
Series: Elemental Blessings #2
Published by Ace on November 5, 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 386
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
AmazonThe Book DepositoryAudible
Goodreads
four-half-stars

"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...

As good as Troubled Waters is, Royal Airs is immediately and decidedly better. Shinn pulls off in this series, her trademark fantasy fluff with sneaky little bits of darkness.

The big disparity between Troubled Waters and Royal Airs is that Shinn changes from a single third person limited POV to dual third person limited POVs. This allows for more consistently fast pacing, since, if Josetta isn’t doing anything exciting, Rafe can narrate for a while. Plus, with two POVs, you get to appreciate how voicey these third person limited perspectives are, in a way that didn’t entirely come across with Zoe.

Rafe, the love interest, actually opens the narration, and he is immediately charming. He makes his living as a card player in a seedy bar in the slums, and he’s a total rogue but also kind-hearted. He meets the princesses after rescuing Corene from creeps when she stumbled into the bar. Also, it’s really delightful to compare Josetta to Zoe, because on the surface, they have a lot of similarities. They’re both pretty mild and sweet and kind most of the time, disposed to help people, and fierce when roused. However, they’re completely different, and I love how much Sharon Shinn gets the complexities of people’s natures. It would be so easy to make Josetta an unlikable, saintly sort, but she’s a real, flawed girl, and I love her.

In a lot of ways, Royal Airs is a typical fantasy plot turned on its head. Rafe, the charming rogue, is rescued over and over again by Josetta. Though he’s strong and vital, he needs her calming guidance. It’s a recurring joke in the series that Rafe always ends up getting beaten up or injured and needing Josetta to care for him; he’s frustrated that he’s always weak in front of her, but she doesn’t mind at all.

Rafe and Josetta don’t have the powerful bantery romance that gets my heart going most easily, but Shinn totally makes their connection work for me. I also appreciate that of the three Shinn novels I’ve read thus far, they have the most physically passionate connection. I cheered when Josetta straight up told his little brother that Rafe would be staying in her room. Royal Airs is the sexiest and most sex positive of the Shinn novels I’ve read thus far.

The plot’s a delight, told in typical Shinn fashion, meaning that drama is played down most of the time and things can be oddly anticlimactic but it also just works, but that there will come a scene where you’re like HOLY SHIT DID THAT JUST HAPPEN??? Shinn plots are largely fluffy but not in a way that makes things turn out impossibly perfect. I absolutely LOVE that View Spoiler » Shinn basically turns the whole plot into a series of charming shippy tropes, like tending to your injured love and needing to be together a lot because reasons and it’s the best.

I’m a bit skeptical of the romance set up for the next novel, but I love the plot set up, and lbr I suspect Shinn could make me ship anything. Royal Airs is definitely battling it out with Summers at Castle Auburn as my favorite Shinn novel.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 

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One response to “Size Doesn’t Matter (142): Troubled Waters; Royal Airs”

  1. I have got to get a hold of these books! I’ve been on a bit of a library ban (trying to work on my review pile and owned books) but I think I’m about to make an exception!
    Bonnie @ For the Love of Words recently posted…Something To Look Forward To – Week of April 24th, 2017My Profile

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