Fortune and Fate, by Sharon Shinn

>> Wednesday, November 24, 2010

TITLE: Fortune and Fate
AUTHOR: Sharon Shinn

COPYRIGHT: 2008
PAGES: 448
PUBLISHER: Ace

SETTING: The Kingdom of Gillengaria
TYPE: Fantasy romance
SERIES: 5th in the Twelve Houses series

REASON FOR READING: Sharon Shinn is one of my favourite authors, and I've loved her Twelve Houses books.

Plagued by guilt for failing to protect her king, Rider Wren has fled the city of Gilengaria and given herself the penance of a life of wandering, helping strangers in need. But when chance brings her to the great estate known as Fortune, Wren will find her fate, and finally confront the ghosts of her past.

Two years after civil war tore Gillengaria apart, the former Rider Wen is still aimlessly wandering the countryside, unable to find peace. In an effort to atone for one single disastrous failure, she looks for opportunities to do good and make amends. She rescues a kidnapped young serramarra, who turns out to be Karryn Fortunalt, daughter of one of the marlords who took the country to war. Karryn’s guardian, Jasper Paladar, persuades Wen to settle at the house known as Fortune and assemble a guard that can protect the serramarra from future attempts on her life. Wen finds herself drawn to the gentle, scholarly Jasper, who is like no one she has ever known before, and she grudgingly grows fond of the flighty Karryn. Nonetheless, she is eager to fulfill her contract and move on—but she cannot leave when she realizes Karryn is still in danger.
NOTE: This review contains some spoilers for the first 4 books.

As far as I know, the Twelve Houses series was supposed to be four books long. By the end of book 4, Reader and Raelynx, not only had the civil war that had been brewing throughout the series been fought and won, all 6 of our central characters: Senneth, Taise, Kirra, Donnal, Justin and Cammon, had found their partners and had their romance.

Fortune and Fate takes place a couple of years after the end of the war, and follows Wen, once of the King's Riders whom we met in previous books. Wen was with King Baryn when he was assassinated, and although she knows very well she did all she could to defend him (she was gravely injured in the attack herself), King's Guards are known for being fanatically loyal to their monarchs, and she can't help but still feel guilty. She's left the Riders and has spent the past few years wandering around Gillengaria, hiding her past as a Rider and going under an assumed name. She's been doing some work here and there and coming to people's aid when she comes across those who need her.

It's while doing this that she runs into young Karryn, the young future serramarra of Fortunalt. Karryn has been kidnapped by a suitor determined to force her into marriage and willing to use any methods to make marriage necessary. On seeing them together, Wen immediately realises something is not quite right, and rescues the girl.

If you've read this series, you'll remember the previous head of Fortunalt was right in the middle of the uprising against King Barryn. He's dead now, though, and Cammon has used his reader's gifts to find a good regent until Karryn, the dead man's daughter, is old enough to take over. The man chosen for her role was her uncle, Jasper Palladar. Jasper is a studious, politically unambitious man who loves his niece and wants the best for her.

When Jasper finds out what happened, and Wen points out how ridiculously unprotected Karryn is, he offers her the role of Captain of the Guard and carte blanche in putting together and training the Guard itself. Wen initially rejects the offer, as she has no interest in settling down at all, but finally changes her mind and takes the job, with the understanding that she'll only commit to short periods at a time, and can leave whenever she wants.

Reluctant as she might be, though, Wen soon starts feeling the satisfaction of putting a guard together from scratch, as well as enjoying her briefings with Jasper a bit too much. And when she receives news that Cammon and his friends, which include her former lover, Justin, are doing a tour of the Southern provinces and might be at Fortunalt before long, she must decide whether to run or stay.

F&F might not have been in the plans originally, but I loved the idea of being able to see what happened next. There were some big changes coming after the civil war, not just in specific houses, but in the role of the minor nobility, the "thirteenth house", which had created such problems with their grievances. Shinn shows us here what those changes have meant, both the good and the potentially problematic, and I found that all very interesting.

Best of all, though, was Wen and her return to the land of the living, so to speak. She's one tough lady, and I loved that Shinn gave her a partner who appreciates and loves that about her. There's a bit of a role reversal here, with the tough warrior being the woman and the bookish intellectual being the hero, and I especially liked that, apart from a moment of shock when he sees just how deadly Wen can be in a fight, Jasper is perfectly happy with who she is and doesn't want to change her.

We also catch up with Senneth and the rest of the crew, and that was fun. Objectively, this was a bit self-indulgent. In the previous books in the series, the presence of the original sextet was always relevant. They were necessary for the story to move forward and they actually evolved as characters themselves. Here it was more akin to your typical romance series trope of having couples from previous installments parading themselves showing how happy they are. Not so objectively, though, I love these characters, and although I was more interesting in what was happening with Wen and Jasper, I enjoyed seeing them again.

A good ending to an excellent series.

MY GRADE: A B+.

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