The Thirteenth House, by Sharon Shinn

>> Friday, August 10, 2007

TITLE: The Thirteenth House
AUTHOR: Sharon Shinn

COPYRIGHT: 2006
PAGES: 496
PUBLISHER: Ace

SETTING: The land of Gillengaria
TYPE: Fantasy
SERIES: Second in the Twelve Houses series

REASON FOR READING: I love Shinn and I loved the first book in this series, Mystic and Rider.

After joining an unlikely band of soldiers and sorcerers to rescue the kidnapped regent Romar Brendan, the shiftling Kirra returns home to learn that her half-sister, Casserah, has been proclaimed heir to the land. But when Casserah refuses to go on a social tour of great Houses, Kirra shifts into her sister's form and makes the rounds-during which she unexpectedly encounters her former compatriots. The motley group of mystics and warriors faces many dangers-and Kirra places herself in peril when she falls in love with the married Lord Romar. Revealing her true identity to him, Kirra begins a tempestuous affair that places them both in mortal danger, and leads them both into the stronghold of the devious lords of the Thirteenth House...
THE PLOT: TTH sees the six from M&R on the move again, travelling throughout Gillengaria and facing plenty of adventures together.

At the start of the book, Kirra's father names her younger sister Casserah the heir to Danalustrous. It's not an entirely unexpected development, and Kirra is mostly relieved, no matter how much people want to believe that she must be resentful at being dispossessed. So UNresentful is she, that she's willing to take the reclusive Casserah's place (and form... Kirra's a shiftling, after all) and join the round of house parties and balls in each House that makes up the Gillengaria equivalent of the Regency Season. Her constant companion, Donnal, will be with her.

Also doing this round are the royal Princess Amalie and her mysterious step-mother, Queen Valri. As was determined in M&R, the fact that most of the noble Houses don't know Amalie at all has contributed to the unrest and the lack of confidence on the future succession, so it seems that a good idea to make Amalie more visible, in spite of the danger to her life that this might entail. It's because of this danger that the royal party will be accompanied by the best protection possible: King's Riders (including Tayse and Justin), as well as powerful mystics Senneth and Cammon.

Yet another person travelling with them is the Regent, Princess Amalie's uncle, Lord Romar. It's clear that as the person who'll be in power if the King were to die before his daughter reaches her majority, Lord Romar has become another possible target of the malcontents, so this has put him in close contact with our six. And as he and Kirra get to know each other, a powerful attraction develops, in spite of Romar being a married man.

MY THOUGHTS: Before starting the book, I'd heard quite a lot about Kirra's bad choices in this book. Knowing that there would be a tragic affair with a married man here definitely made me wait a longer time to start the book than I otherwise would have.

In the end, though, it was fine and I enjoyed the book very much. I even liked what Shinn did with the Kirra-Romar relationship. Maybe it is because of all the Shinn books that I've read, this one is the least romancey. It's more about Kirra than about a love relationship. But even looking at her romance with Donnal, I confess I have a double standard. I don't mind seeing the heroine with another man before she comes to the hero, but I do mind seeing the hero. I guess that's the fantasy for me.

And anyway, while Kirra makes some questionable choices here, I didn't necessarily think they were dishonourable ones, because she wasn't the one breaking any vows. But they were definitely choices that could lead to nothing but heartache for her. At one point Romar talks about what the future would be for them, not really liking it, but accepting as the best possible for them, given the circumstances, and it sounded like hell on Earth to me. Each married to someone else, stealing some moments together whenever they chanced to meet somewhere? Oh, no, no.

But see, I couldn't help but understand Kirra and why she made those choices anyway, even knowing (because she was an intelligent woman) that they could never lead to happiness in the long term. Shinn doesn't make the mistake I've seen other authors fall into of making the other man completely despicable. That way, the heroine just looks like an idiot. Romar is a good man, and I could see why Kirra would love him.

The ending was the right one here, for all the sadness it caused Kirra. Faced with the chance of getting all she wanted, if only she'd ignore her ethics for a little bit, she chose to do what was right, even if it hurt her. And she went the extra step from merely honourable behaviour to truly heroic actions when she did all she could to make her rival happy.

Oh, yes, the ending was right, and I wouldn't even call it a sad ending. It was hopeful and looked towards the future, suggesting happiness coming for Kirra. But... I would have liked a bit more development of this future happiness: i.e. I wanted a bit more of Donnal. We get none of his POV here, and I just didn't really see how Kirra's feelings for him would move from loving him immensely, but as a friend, to a different kind of love.

So far this review has been all Kirra, Kirra, Kirra, but the book isn't like that. All throughout it, there's even more development in the group relationship of the six mystics and Riders, and that's beautifully done as well. Kirra and Justin's relationship takes a fascinating turn which made me even more eager to read Justin's book soon, and seeing how Tayse and Senneth are doing was great. Theirs is a lovely, extremely romantic story, and it continues here. And then there's Cammon, who's just incredibly adorable, for all that he's becoming scarily powerful, and his interactions with Queen Valri and the Princess. All great stuff.

There's also a very interesting plot about discontent in the Thirteenth House (that's the name given to the minor aristocracy, those who aren't part of any of the Twelve Houses but do have quite a bit of social standing), and what some of their members are willing to do to get better conditions from the authorities. It wasn't the focus of the book, really, but provided a good rationale for driving the action forward.

MY GRADE: A B+

SOME SPECULATION: I found myself wondering after this one if Amalie mightn't be some kind of shiftling as well, able to become a Raelynx. I'm thinking of the title of the fourth book... Reader and Raelynx. Reader has to be Cammon, so how about that Raelynx? It would explain the mystery of the King's marriage to Valri, that woman no one knows anything about and who doesn't really seem to have the King in love with her. It would explain her fear as they were travelling here, and it would explain her reaction to the raelynx they picked up during M&R. It would also explain Amalie's reclusiveness as she was growing up. Well, I guess we'll find out in November.

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