Mystic and Rider, by Sharon Shinn

>> Thursday, June 21, 2007

TITLE: Mystic and Rider
AUTHOR: Sharon Shinn

PAGES: 448

SETTING: The land of Gillengaria
TYPE: Fantasy (and with Shinn, I'd go as far as to say Fantasy Romance)
SERIES: First in the Twelve Houses series

REASON FOR READING: Shinn's become an autobuy ever since I read Archangel. Plus, Jane liked it.

The fire mystic Senneth crosses the country of Gillengaria, trying to discover if noble marlords of the Twelve Houses are planning an uprising against the King.

She's accompanied by the soldiers Tayse and Justin, two King's Riders who are unswervingly loyal to the crown. Also on the journey are the shape-changers Kirra and Donnal, and a young mystic named Cammon who can practically read minds.

It's soon clear that not only are marlords planning a rebellion, but that they are being aided by Daughters of the Pale Mother, a fanatical religious sect that hates mystics. While Senneth can clearly take care of herself, Tayse finds himself unable to stop watching her -determined both to protect her and to uncover her secrets.
THE PLOT: Mystic and Rider follows a group composed of mystics (people with some kind of paranormal or psychic power) and Riders (members of the King's guard) as they travel all over Gillengaria gathering information for the King.

King Baryn has heard tales of potential unrest among some of the twelve Houses (the noble families which lead each of the twelve "districts" which make up Gillengaria), and so he's asked a trusted mystic, Senneth, to find out what there is to them. Senneth is accompanied by two more mystics, the shapeshifters Kirra and Donnal, and by two King's Riders, Tayse and Justin. They are soon joined by another young mystic, Cammon, who they rescue from abuse in a tavern.

From the beginning, it's clear that there is something to the tales, and that the situation might be getting dangerous. A fanatical group of women who call themselves the Daughters of the Pale Mother have began a campaign against mystics, and their crusade seems to be gathering strength among the Southern Houses.

MY THOUGHTS: Like with all of Shinn's books, I was absorbed by the story from the very beginning. And though the world she's created here is well-drawn and interesting and the adventures of our little band of explorers are exciting, that was not what drew me in. In fact, you could say that the action was a bit too episodic and that most of their travels are pointless, because they never learn much more than what they already know after the first couple of stops.

But see, Shinn's the kind of fantasy author I like, because her stories are all about the characters. What made me love this book were the developments within the group, seeing it turn from two separate bands, which start out mistrusting each other almost as much as the threats around them, into a real team.

At the beginning, there's a sharp division between the three (then four) mystics in the group and the Riders. While the Riders are not mystic-haters, they're not particularly comfortable with them. They don't really understand their powers, and there's an element of fear in their lack of understanding, especially in Justin. As for the mystics, they know how the Riders feel about them and suspect their intentions toward them.

But as they face increasing dangers together, they all start relating as people, rather than simply mystics and Riders, and much more complex relationships develop, in a process I found fascinating. I was especially interested in what's the central relationship in this book, which is that between Senneth, the group's leader, and Tayse, the oldest and more experienced Rider. They're both compelling characters. Senneth is a very strong heroine, a woman who's lived through a lot and survived trials which would have broken a lesser person. This has made her very tough, and quiet, stoic Tayse is the right person for her to be a little softer with. Their romance is just lovely. It's very romantic, but in a way that fits these two characters perfectly, which means it's not a cloying, sweet kind of romantic.

And in case anyone's worried, we do get a perfectly (make that "wonderfully") satisfying resolution to their relationship. The outside plot is another story, though. We get a conclusion of sorts (they do conclude their trip), but it's clear that M&R is only the beginning and there's still the prospect of a coming religious civil war out there. Fortunately, two more books are already out, so I won't have to wait long at all to see what happens.

MY GRADE: I was going to go with a B+, but even after a couple of weeks of reading this book, it's still very fresh in my mind and thinking of it makes me smile. So I'm going to upgrade that to an A-.


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