Short Stories: Never After (2009)
The Shape-Changer’s Wife (1995)
Then I left it on the bookshelf in one of those weird fits I go through, of worrying that a book–especially an earlier book–by an author I like won’t be as good as I’m hoping.
Now I do have to say that being an earlier book, this did have some flaws. However, the strengths that I like so much about Sharon Shinn’s writing are clearly evident in The Shape-Changer’s Wife. The characters are strong and unique individuals, the dialog is good, and the story is both original and fascinating.
Aubrey is a student magician who has learned all his current master, Cyril, has to teach him, and wants next to learn the art of shape-changing. Cyril refuses to teach him shape-changing, but refers him to another magician, the powerful Glyrenden, who is a master of the art of shape-changing. Although Glyrenden is somewhat of a recluse, he agrees to take Aubrey has his student. However, when Aubrey arrives at Glyrenden’s castle, he discovers that his new master has taken a beautiful wife, and also has two very strange servants.
There were, in my opinion, two weaknesses of the book. The first was that the relationship that developed between Aubrey and Lilith was pretty obvious. Although I have to say, how that relationship developed was not obvious, and was very well done.
The other weakness was the epilogue, which felt as if it was tacked on under the orders of an editor who felt it would make the story more consumer friendly. Personally, I recommend skipping the Epilogue, and leaving the ending as it was, since I found the ending to be very satisfying as it was.
Other than those two small faults, the story was very enjoyable. Because it’s a short book, it made a good travel book, as it slipped easily in my pocket, and because the story was somewhat winding, it was good for reading in short chunks. (Although just past halfway through I ended up reading the remainder in one stretch.
Plus, I really liked the cover. Since I often complain about covers (and fantasy books have some that are pretty horrific) I like to take note when I find one I think is particularly well done.
Although this is a relatively short story (only 200 pages) if you are a fan of Sharon Shinn’s writing, this is a story you won’t want to miss. If you have not read her writing before, I would recommend this as a good place to start, as the story is very solid and well-done, and had really only two faults, both of which may be more personal peeves than faults. But the story more than makes up for it. So if you come across The Shape-Changer’s Wife in a used book store (since it seems to be currently out of print) make sure you pick it up.
Summers at Castle Auburn (2001)
I picked up Summers at Castle Auburn because I’d read another Sharon Shinn book and thoroughly enjoyed it. So when I came across Summers at Castle Auburn used I snatched it up, since I hadn’t seen it before.
Corie is the bastard daughter of a bastard lord. After her father dies, her Uncle Jaxon--who had abdicated his position in favor of his bastard brother--brings her into the family. Although she lives most of the year with her grandmother the herb-witch, she spends her summers at the castle with her sister (the legitimate daughter of the lord). Uncle Jaxon brought Corie to Castle Auburn because Elisandra needed a sister and a friend, and despite their difference in ages, Corie turns out to be just that.
The book is written in three parts, the first is the summer she was fourteen. We learn about Corie and her family, as well as the future king, Prince Bryan, his cousin Kent, and members of the castle. We also learn about the aliora, which become a major point through the story.
I really liked both the story and the characters. I have to admit that initially I was annoyed with Corie's infatuation with Prince Bryan, but she was only fourteen, so it was kind of to be expected. Also the progression of her feelings towards Bryan do a good job of showing how she grows and matures with age. The more she learns of life the more she changes her views on the world and the people around her. I thought that part was incredibly well done.
The story was also extremely well done. Not only do we have Corie's growth and maturity as a story arc, but there is a story arc about Bryan's growth towards the kingship and his engagement with Elisandra, Corie's sister, and a story arc about the aliora. Although I guessed some of the places the story was going, there were many places where I guessed incorrectly, which is always a pleasant surprise.
And the writing was also excellent.
The summer I was fourteen, my uncle Jaxon took me with him on an expedition to hunt for aliora. I had only seen the delicate fey creatures in captivity, and then only when I was visiting castle Auburn. I was as excited about the trip to Faelyn River as I had been about anything in my life.
There was a strong romantic element to the story--not only do we have Elisandra and Bryan's engagement, and Corie's infatuation with Bryan, but life at a royal court involves marriage alliances and secret romances, as well as the love that develops between the "working class' individuals of the castle. Because Corie is an herb witch, she gets involved in many of these intrigues as she makes friends with the castle guards. Surprisingly, I enjoyed this element of the story. We see the full range of romantic possibilities, from the cad to the romantic who wants to marry for love--and that's just within the members of the castle guard.
If you're looking for a well-written fantasy with a complex story-arc that is contained in a single book, then I highly recommend Summers at Castle Auburn.
The Truth-Teller's Tale (2005)
The Twelve Houses
Mystic and Rider (2005)
Senneth is a mystic, leading a group through the country of Gillengarin upon the orders of King Baryn. In her group are two King's Riders, sent along, but unsure of Senneth and where her loyalties lie.
First and foremost, the writing and storytelling are superb. The story grabbed me from the first page. Here's first paragraph:
Kardon stood at the back of the tavern, surveying the night's clientele, and smiled in brutal satisfaction. A chilled and rainy night, so he hadn't expected too many customers, and he'd been right. There were a handful of regulars playing chess in the corner or drinking at the bar and eyeing the newcomers with a speculative sideways interest. Kardon wasn't really a charitable sort, but he almost fount it in him to feel sorry for the four strangers scattered throughout the long, low-beamed room. The chances were good that one or all of them would lose his money--or his life--before the night was over.
See? Lovely and well done.
Several times during the course of the story I said, "I didn't expect that!" Of course there were a few things that I expected, but they were good thing, so I was happen when they turned out as I had hoped they would.
The female characters were strong and interesting, yet when we saw anyone's thoughts or speculations, they were the thoughts of Tayse, one of the King's Riders, and second in command of the group.
The magic was interesting, in that different mystics had different strengths, and they all couldn't do the same things. I also wasn't left with the feeling that mystics could do anything, and that there were no consequences to using magic.
I particularly like the way that she tried to keep things realistic. The fighters got tired. Different people in the group had different strengths. When people were hurt, they had to be healed, and couldn't just shrug off their wounds and go on.
Sharon Shinn also did an excellent job with the backstory. She set things up so that the world building and history of each character came out in a way that was both realistic, and very well done. We didn't get into the history of most of the characters until we were well into the story, so those histories didn't come as an interruption to the tale, but as learning more about characters about whom we were interested.
Most importantly, although this book is part of a series, the story arc is completed in this book, and although there are other story arcs that will obviously continue, there is a sense of completion. I want to read the next book not because this book left me hanging, but because I want to read more about these characters and this world.
I also loved the cover. The magic is subtle and understated, yet there. The woman on the cover--Senneth--looks like she's been traveling for several weeks, and is actually dressed for travel. The cover doesn't portray any single scene in the book, but does do a good job or portraying how Senneth came across in the book. Excellent cover.
If I were to describe a fantasy book that was near perfect, it might be this story. Everything is done well, I put down the book thinking, "that was great!" and I want to go and read other books by Sharon Shinn.
General Winston’s Daughter (2007)
On the trip over Averie makes friends with Lieutenant Du’Kai, a Xan’tai member of the Aerberelle Army. This means only that as a member of a conquered territory he can gain only the rank of Captain, but is otherwise an acceptable dinner companion for Lady Averie, although Averie’s chaperone Lady Selkirk is at first unsure as to the propriety of this. But the journey is long and Du’Kirk is a charming companion, so they soon all end up looking forward to the dinners.
The book, however, is very much more than Averie’s life and love. Her father and the man she is set to marry are both soldiers, and although she grew up a soldier’s daughter, never truly considered what it was her father did–and what her husband would be doing.
THAT said, this is NOT a diatribe about war. But it is a young woman’s discovery of what war and conquest mean. And no, she doesn’t join the war or anything dramatic like that–she is a young woman who has lead a protected life but who also seeks to learn more about those around here.
Is this a fantasy? Only in that the world in which Averie lives does not exist. I find it odd that books such as this (and many written by Guy Gavriel Kay) end up classified as fantasy despite the lack of magic–simply because the world in which their characters live is not one that ever existed. It’s a strange thing to ponder.
Despite not being a magical fantasy, it is a romance, and like everything else I’ve read by Sharon Shinn, a well done with. Averie is young, and makes mistakes, but she isn’t stupid, and her mistakes are typically made because she is kind hearted and trying to help and understand others.
I can’t say that I ever found myself emotionally involved with the characters, yet I also could not stop reading, and devoured the story in two sittings (had to stop to go out to dinner), so it’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just is.
It’s also a very surprising book, where nothing turned out as I was expecting. All in all, highly recommended.
Published by Viking
I have purchased the first book in the Archangel series, but had not read it, so I saw this as a nice introduction to that world. In Flight, Salome had been lover to an angel, but escaped and wanted nothing more than to keep her niece and those she loved safe from the angels. But when angels arrive to put a stop to the rain, Salome’s fears and worries are reawakened.
This was a romance–though it didn’t seem so at first–and I quite liked Salome, who was strong and willing to fight for those she loved.
In the novella Blood, a gulden man searches for his mother, and learns about the land from which he comes, the mores that have governed his life, and much about society and integration. The initial message of the story seemed to be one of racial acceptance, accept that upon second glance, that isn’t truly the message at all. I quite like Kerk and his willingness to accept the flaws in his society while still seeing good in it.
The third novella, Gold is set in Alora, where the princess Zara is sent into hiding while war rages at home. But will she be able to escape the lure of Alora? This was a straight up romance, and what I found interesting was that although the slavery that had existed previously was outlawed, it was quite easy to see how fear of Alora had lead to the way things were–and how it could happen again.
The final story, Flame, was set in the world of the Twelve Houses. I read the first book several years ago, and then set it aside when I realized it was a series, wanting to wait until more of the series was out before continuing. (Why yes, I have gotten burned too many times by fantasy authors!)
Senneth is a mystic who can control fire, and a visit to her aunt leads to an exposure of her gift to those who were not raised to be accepting of it. This was probably my least favorite story of the batch, since it was set up as a romance between Senneth and Degarde and then that goes to hell right quick. It was also relatively transparent as to what was happening and why.
But all in all, I very much enjoyed all four novellas, and was glad to either read more about worlds where I’d spent time in the past, or learn about new worlds where I can spend time in the future.
Published by Ace
Huntress by Tamora Pierce
Unwrapping by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
The Real Thing by Alison Goodman
Little (Grrl) Lost by Charles de Lint
I’ll Give you My Word by Diana Wynn Jones
In the House of the Seven Librarians by Ellen Klages
Wintermoon Wish by Sharon Shinn
The Wizards of Perfil by Kelly Link
Jack O’Lantern by Patrician A. McKillip
Quill by Carol Emshwiller
Blood Roses by Francesca Lia Block
Hives by Kara Dalkey
Perception by Alan Dean Foster
The House on the Planet by Tanith Lee
Cousins by Pamela Dean
What Used to be Good Still Is by Emma Bull
This is a collection of fantasy, urban fantasy (minus the boinking) and science fiction. Interestingly, I didn’t mind most of the science fiction too much, though they weren’t my favorite stories in the collection.
Published by Firebird
Powers of Detection (2004) edited by Dana Stabenow
Well, it was an okay thing.
Cold Spell - Donna Andrews
The Nightside, Needless To Say - Simon R. Green
Lovely - John Straley
The Price - Anne Bishop
Fairy Dust - Charlaine Harris
The Judgement - Anne Perry
The Sorcerer's Assassin - Sharon Shinn
The Boy Who Chased Seagulls - Michael Armstrong
Palimpsest - Laura Anne Gilman
The Death of Clickclickwhistle - Mike Doogan
Cairene Dawn - Jay Caselberg
Justice Is A Two-Edged Sword - Dana Stabenow
The Charlaine Harris story was good. In "Fairy Dust," Sookie has to figure out who killed Claudine's sister, Claudia.
Having read Anne Perry's fantasy before, I skipped "The Judgement" entirely. She may write good mysteries, but what fantasy I've read has been not good.
I liked Jay Caselberg's "Cairene Dawn" even though I caught onto where he was going with it. It was fun and amusing. Anne Bishop's "The Price" was an interesting story. The setting and the world were strange, but the story was still fascinating.
I also liked Simon R. Green's "The Nightside Needless to Say," which was a quick read, and in the hard-boiled vein, which I enjoy when done well. John Straley's "Lovely" was interesting as well, seeing as how it was written from the point of view of a crow.
The other stories were for the most part okay. I didn't like "The Death of Clickclickwhistle" too much, but it was science fiction rather than fantasy, and that was the part I didn't care for, rather than the mystery.
I own and read Dana Stabenow’s first fantasy/mystery anthology, Powers of Detection and found it a mixed bag. But when I saw Unusual Suspects and saw it had stories from Sharon Shinn & Simon R. Green, I knew I would have to have this anthology.
In general, I enjoyed it more than the first anthology.
I quite liked Sharon Shinn’s story, “The House of Seven Spirits.” A woman moves into a house with seven ghosts, and eventually tries to figure out why they’re all tied to the house. There’s something refreshing about a woman who isn’t the least bit frightened by moving into a house full of ghosts, and who acts rationally in response to their existence.
If you’re a fan of fantasy mysteries, this anthology is a good introduction to some authors I particularly like, and although it had some weak spots, was better than its predecessor.
Never After (2009)
The only reason I have this book a second glance after seeing Laurell K. Hamilton’s name was because I’ve read books by Yasmine Galenorn, Marjorie M. Liu, and Sharon Shinn and loved what I read. So I grabbed the book, despite my misgivings.
The final story, “The Wrong Bridegroom” by Sharon Shinn was the longest–and also possibly the strongest–story in the anthology. Olivia is a princess who’s father wants to marry her off. His first choice, Harwin, she most definitely didn’t want to marry, and so convinced her father to hold a contest for her hand in marriage. Unsurprisingly, things don’t go as Olivia expects.
This was an absolutely fabulous story. Olivia is not particularly likable at the start of the story–she’s very much a spoiled brat and you know she’s being stubborn for the sake of being stubborn and you kinda want to smack her. But you have to keep reading, to see what happens, and then pretty soon things have changed.
The story is full of surprises, the characters are extremely well done, and overall, this is one of the best stories I’ve read in a long time.
So although I can’t tell you about the first story, I can highly recommend the remaining three stories. Check out this anthology, I don’t think you’ll regret it.