Dark Moon Defender, by Sharon Shinn

>> Thursday, September 06, 2007

TITLE: Dark Moon Defender
AUTHOR: Sharon Shinn

PAGES: 448

SETTING: The land of Gillengaria
TYPE: Fantasy romance
SERIES: Third in the Twelve Houses series, coming after Mystic and Rider and The Thirteenth House.

REASON FOR READING: I've loved everything I've read by this author, and this series has been excellent so far.

The Rider Justin is sent to the small town of Neft, so he can spy on the nearby Lumanen Convent where the Daughters of the Pale Moon reside. He quickly learns that Coralinda Gisseltess, the leader of the Daughters, is indeed persecuting mystics and the people who shelter them. Even more quickly, he falls in love with Ellynor, one of the convent's novices.

But the courtship is perilous in the extreme. Not only does Coralinda hate the king and the King's Riders, but Ellynor is from the Lirrenlands, where women are not allowed to take lovers outside of the close-knit clans. If her brothers find out about Justin, they will insist upon an duel to the death... and if Coralinda finds out that Ellynor is a mystic, Ellynor's own life will be instantly at risk.
THE PLOT: When Rider Justin is sent undercover to the small town of Neft, to spy on the Daughters of the Pale Mother, at the Lumanen Convent, he's not particularly happy about it. He hates leaving the friends he made in the earlier books (his makeshift family, really) behind, and he feels isolated.

Things change when he meets and falls for Ellynor, a novice at the convent. Their relationship develops amid much danger, as Justin discovers just how bloody and murderous the Daughters' campaign against mystics has become, and Ellynor realizes what the convent is really about. But that's not all; there's even more danger for each of them. Ellynor turns out to be a mystic herself, and she's from the Lirrenlands, too, where customs determine that relationships between Lirren girls and outsiders almost always end in tragedy.

MY THOUGHTS: As the series has progressed, I've become fonder and fonder of Justin. He started out in M&R as a character I saw as somewhat rigid and prejudiced, but as I continued reading, I came to understand him much better and appreciate him. In DMD, Shinn pairs the man who comes from no family at all and who has had to build his own with a woman who has a surfeit of it, for whom her extended family is the building block of her entire life.

It's a relationship that seems impossible from the start, what with Ellynor being in the worst possible place and the danger from her family hanging over them the whole time. But these two do fall in love, in spite of everything, and it's a sweet, caring relationship. I liked Ellynor quite a bit (in spite of the couple of moments when she seemed purposely blind), but it was Justin I kept reading for. The real, inner Justin is a vulnerable man who feels he's not deserving of the love of someone like Ellynor, and seeing him understand that he is, indeed, loved, and not just by Ellynor, but by his friends, was lovely.

It seems from the setup of the book that we'll be focusing just on Justin and not see the group of six friends from the earlier books together, as they seem to be scattered all over the place. But never fear, the six do get together again, and we are treated to some more fascinating family dynamics. Justin's relationship with Kirra had been a very interesting element of the previous book, and it remains so here. They're really brother and sister now. And we also get updates on how Kirra and Donnal are doing (which is a good thing, after how little we got of that in TTH, and really set my mind at ease), as well as Senneth and Tayse (I love those two, their relationship is wonderfully romantic, in a totally non-saccharine way).

Oh, and I mustn't forget the outside plot. The probable upcoming war continues to simmer here, and though not much actually happens here, it was still excellently done and interesting. We come to understand more about Coralinda Gisseltess and her Daughters of the Pale Mother, which was great, as they'd been a bit shadowy in earlier books. With what we see here, Shinn makes the stakes feel even higher, because this is quite a terrifying sect. I wonder whether the next book, Reader and Raelynx (coming out in November, and hey, look, you can see the cover now at amazon!) will be the last one? If so, we should get all the answers there. Whatever it is, I can't wait.

MY GRADE: An A-. Shinn keeps getting better and better.


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