Wrapt in Crystal, by Sharon Shinn

>> Thursday, May 17, 2007

TITLE: Wrapt in Crystal
AUTHOR: Sharon Shinn

PAGES: 335
PUBLISHER: Ace (Penguin-Putnam)

SETTING: Futuristic
TYPE: Romantic fantasy
SERIES: No, this is a stand alone

REASON FOR READING: Sharon Shinn's name on the cover is enough for me. I've become a huge fan since reading her Samaria series.

Women from two very different religious sects are being murdered on the planet of Semay, and no one knows why. Sent to investigate is Cowen Drake, a special assignment officer with an intergalactic peacekeeping force -also known as a Moonchild.

He finds himself drawn to the vibrant and sophisticated Jovieve, head of the joyous Triumphante sect. But at the compound of the ascetic Fideles, he finds himself falling in love with a quiet, intense woman named Laura -who risks her life so carelessly that she might be the killer's next victim.
THE PLOT: Interfed, an intergalactic alliance of planets, has long been courting the distant Semay, trying to lure this peaceful, Latin-influenced world into joining them. So when the Semayese ask Interfed for help investigating a series of murders, the latter send their best, Lieutenant Cowan Drake, member of the much admired peacekeeping force called the Moonchildren.

Semay is a planet divided into two sects, both worshipping the same goddess, Ava. These sects are diametrically different: while the Triumphantes revel in Ava's joyous side, seeing nothing wrong in enjoying creature comforts while doing good works, the Fideles are ascetic and austere. But now they have something more in common: a serial killer is strangling priestesses, and he's alternating between the Fideles and the Triumphantes.

To find out what could be happening, Drake, a man who's lost his faith, will have to come to really understand the two sects and their faith. For this, he'll have the help of two women, each as fascinating as the other: Jovieve, the head of the Triumphante order, and Laura, one of the Fideles.

MY THOUGHTS:WIC is a fantasy, an exploration of the issue of faith, a police procedural and a romance, all in one. These disparate aspects work well together, and the book suceeds wonderfully at the first three and is good enough at the fourth.

Shinn has developed a full, interesting world here. Most of the focus in WIC is on Semay and its religion and way of life. That intrigued me, but I was just as interested in the wider world, in Interfed and the different worlds in it and in the political manouvering involved in trying to bring Semay into the fold. In her website, Shinn mentions that she has a handful of stories already written in the Moonchild universe (all written before she was first published, unfortunately, so apparently they'd need some work before they are publishable), and it shows that she's given it a lot of thought.

Semay itself is well done, but there was only one issue that distracted me and which I thought wasn't as sucessful. I'm talking about the language. I appreciate what Shinn was trying to do, showing a language that is supposed to be a current one that has evolved over hundreds of years (or rather, a mix of current ones, supposedly, but other than one or two words, everything else is from a single language). Problem is, the language Shinn chose is Spanish, my own mother tongue, so it's one I know very well and love. And so the whole thing fell flat to me. It simply read like bad Spanish to me. In fact, many of the new words and word combinations were such that I was extremely skeptical that Spanish would have evolved like that. It had no rhyme or reason. If you compare today's Spanish to that of the 15th century, there's a logic to the changes, and that was missing here.

Like in the Samaria series, the issue of faith is a big one here, and it's explored in a way I enjoyed. In a way, the Triumphantes' and Fideles' doctrines and ways of worshipping complement each other and each is enriched by the presence of the other. On first starting the book and being introduced to the two sects, I expected a different dynamic between them, one more full of rivalry and conflict. Shinn surprised me with this much more complex, subtle relationship, and it was a good surprise.

The romance wasn't as enjoyable to me, however. We've got a bit of a triangle going on here, with Drake being drawn both to Jovieve and to Laura, albeit in different ways. I suppose it's my traditionalist romance reader heart speaking, but I was uncomfortable with how Drake had sex with one of the women when he already knew he loved the other one (even if nothing had yet happened between them). Well, at least this other woman didn't turn out to be some kind of villain, and I appreciated that there wasn't a demonization of her sexuality (she's not interested in a deeper relationship with Drake, either).

But once the triangle is out of the picture, the romance improves. The woman who ends up being Drake's definitive love interest is a very compelling character, a true tortured heroine, and the resolution of their relationship is wonderfully romantic, in a completely non-schmaltzy kind of way.

Something else I really liked was the police procedural aspect. The case is one that is truly interesting and that is made even more so by Semay's way of life and each sect's characteristics. I enjoyed following Drake's painstaking investigation, and once we find out what's going on, everything clicks perfectly, especially the things that had made absolutely no sense previously.

MY GRADE: A B+. Let's hope Shinn can publish all those Moonchild universe stories one day.


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