Sharon Shinn’s Twelve Houses just keeps getting better as I read. It appears that the five books will each take place from the point of view of a different character, presumably one of the six who traveled together through the first book and regrouped for the second: Senneth and Tayse, the mystic and Rider of the title of the first book; Kirra, POV for the second book, The Thirteenth House; Justin, the Rider at the center of Dark Moon Defender; Cammon, who anchors Reader and Raelynx; I can only assume Donnal is at the heart of Fortune and Fate. Unless he’s not. I’m not planning on reading the blurb – that way spoilers lie.
I finished Thirteenth House last Sunday – no wonder I didn’t get any writing (or posting) done all weekend. It was worth it, at least in the short term – while I really liked S&S, and enjoyed M&R very much, I loved 13th House. It was gorgeous. It follows a similar path to that of M&R, really: starting with a daring rescue, proceeding onward through the kingdom on a rather leisurely route from House to House with trouble dogging every step, and woven through with a completely impossible love … but it doesn’t matter. Shinn did a wonderful job of making these characters I care about, and I think I mentioned last time I talked about them that I’m as glad as they are when they’re all given a chance to be together – and I feel it when something comes between two of them. Someone, rather. It was fun being inside the golden-haired head of Kirra Danalustrous – and what a great name that is – and to watch her grow up a bit in the course of this story. Grow up a lot. It’s a hell of a journey she goes through – that may be part of how the reader is led to care about the characters, the fact that they are put through “red and silver hell”…
The characters we spend the most time with, into whose heads we’re mostly allowed, were brought together by the way their varied gifts work together, and, I like to think, because the king is wise and knows his tools (using that in a non-pejorative manner); it’s a lot of fun to watch the early acquaintanceship among some of them and outright dislike among others turn into what it turns into. They’re not all warm and cuddly, these six we start out with. Senneth is rather no-nonsense (warm, literally, but not cuddly) and at times holds herself a bit distant because of her gifts. Tayse is even more no-nonsense and less cuddly (except to Senneth), with little time for anyone who isn’t the king or another Rider; if you earn his respect, it’s an accomplishment. Kirra can be exasperating; she’s charming and gregarious, but also strong-willed, somewhat arrogant, and not only accustomed to getting her own way – she doesn’t see any way anyone will stop her getting her own way. She’s very much the product of her upbringing – and has a bit of a revelation to that effect in 13th. She has the sort of acrimonious relationship with Justin which in a lesser book would end up with them in bed, and in fact for a good chunk of 13th I was half-expecting it. Instead, they both come to the shocking realization that they do love each other: as friends, companions, family. While both still deeply enjoy baiting each other, they also respect each other and know each other’s true worth; they rely on each other with the utmost faith that they can rely on each other. Their relationship is a treat. That being said, Justin’s personality makes Tayse look like a little ray of sunshine. Cammon is a wonderfully unique character, sunny-natured and serene, with gifts that are constantly surprising those around him and, I suppose, himself: I look forward to seeing the world from his point of view. And Donnal is intriguing… silent, feral, he’s very obviously devoted to the House of Danalustrous – or at least Kirra Danalustrous. The obvious interpretation of his behavior – that he loves her, in still another impossible love – was freighted with a little doubt, at least for me, because of the way 13th House played out – but that book showed him dealing with the situation in really the only way he could. It was very painful – and very well done. Poor Kirra. Poor Donnal.
I was strangely surprised to read references to the series as “paranormal romances” or “fantasy romances” or whatnot; for me the romances are thoroughly secondary to the plot of learning more about the state of the kingdom. The romances are a large part of the story as seen through whomever’s point of view we’re sharing, but for the most part – except for the I-don’t-care obsession of the height of Kirra’s passion – they take the backseat they should do to the job at hand. One of limyaael’s rants (as mentioned in the Alanna Morland post – I’m probably going to be mentioning them a lot in the near future) was about how bad fantasy characters start thinking with their hindbrains and lose track of the fact that they’re in the middle of saving the world or some such, and who’s sleeping with whom becomes more important than life and limb, and that’s ridiculous and to be avoided at all costs. Well, I raised an eyebrow at it when I read it, and the other eyebrow joins the first thinking about it after having read 13th House. Kirra’s job throughout most of this book was to use her mystic gift of shape-shifting to impersonate her sister and represent her House at social functions the sister refused to attend, and to help guard the princess making her own important appearances at said social functions – and, as always, to find out more about who was on who’s side. At no time did she utterly fail in her job … but near the beginning of the book she becomes fascinated by a man who is thoroughly off-limits. She deals with it, enjoys the feeling, and knowing nothing should be done about it tries to suppress it, but can’t help looking for him – and finds he is also looking for her, because he is as fascinated by her. He ends up joining her group and, traveling together, they inevitably grow closer until they throw caution to the proverbial winds. And for a while there it is: as I said above, an obsession. This wasn’t typical romantic fare, at least not among books I read; this was, for both of them, an overriding concern – the kind of love, lust, need that must come first no matter what seems to stand in its way. Obstacles are part of the fuel for their fire – the need to hide what they were about (intrigue always whets appetite – although, as it turns out, they don’t do that perfect a job in keeping it all hidden), the exhaustion that comes as a result of, er, being active all night, the issue of how they will manage the affair when the journey is over… Until something happens to shock Kirra back to her senses.
This is why I raised that original eyebrow about the limyaael rant. Now and then, the sort of passion that comes up in fantasy – and all other fiction, and, in fact, in history – does cause those caught up in it to put themselves and their affair first. In reality, wars have been fought, won, and lost because of two people who couldn’t live without each other. (I’d offer Henry VIII as an
example, but I don’t think that was quite love. In any of the six cases.) Kirra’s point of view here made for a very good illustration of wanting someone forbidden, no matter what, and being only able to think of him: the situation could easily have led to a number of Very Bad Consequences, the listing of which would be even more spoilerish than this post already is, but not least of which would be something approaching (if not encompassing) the ruination of either her sister’s reputation (since she was masquerading as her sister) or of House Danalustrous. Part of proceeding with the affair anyway, in full knowledge of the consequences of being found out, was a combined certainty that they could handle the contrivances needed, and, as I said, a level of not caring any more. Need ruled all – and this is why I was so surprised to read something I so completely disagreed with from someone I usually thoroughly agree with. It happens. It makes for great fiction – and great literature. It definitely shouldn’t be the norm in fiction any more than in life – but it does happen.
I had thought that this book would involve the return of the raelynx to its homeland of the Lirrens, but that may be the fourth book. 13th House involved the dis-isolation of the princess. As I said in the post about M&R, part of the ill feeling or ill ease in the country toward the monarchy was that the king was becoming old – and his is not a long-lived line – and his daughter, Amalie, has not been seen in public since she was very young – has not been seen at all, by most. Combined with the fact of a much younger new wife about whom no one knows much at all, and the seeds of uprising and rebellion are, to play with bad metaphor, fertilized with the ideas that a) the king is not long for this world; b) the heir to the throne is obviously unfit to be seen in public, because she hasn’t been; c) the old fool, er, His Majesty has been bewitched by this woman no one can find out anything about; and d) godesses forbid she gives him another heir, because then we’ll all be ruled by mystics – and if she’s bewitched the king then she must be a mystic, so let’s destroy them all. That is the job Senneth, and then the rest of the troupe, is set on for this book: to escort Amalie through the social Season, accompanied by her very protective step-mother, the beautiful and mysterious – and rather odd – Queen Valri, to let all and sundry see that the former is well fit to rule, when the time comes, and the latter isn’t a witch. Amalie, at least, makes a good impression wherever she goes, and the secondary goal of the mission is achieved as well: intelligence gathering. The book ends as the mission does, and the group of six, already splintered by events, breaks up again. For now.
The storyline of the series is a rather different way of handling a fairly common plot: rebellion is being planned against the king, and the Good Guys need to find out about it and, if possible, stop it. I like the way the plot spins out in this – it feels more and more like a preconceived plan implemented by a wise king, who, I just realized, doesn’t seem to have any stationary councilors – just Senneth & Co. I’ve used the word “leisurely” before, and it still applies to the unwinding of the story (with frantic interludes) – but part of it, I’m realizing, is the pace at which the characters must travel. They need to go from House to House, and in order to do so must ride hundreds of miles in M&R – and in 13th, must traverse the same distances by carriage: i.e., much more slowly. But I’ve said it, and will likely keep saying it: with these characters, I don’t much care how long it takes – I’m very happy to stick with them for the long haul. Leisurely never means boring.