Dear Ms. Shinn,
I was tired, crabby, and busily packing for a trip when the ARC of Reader and Raelynx arrived on my doorstep. Minutes later, I gleefully sent off an email to my fellow Dear Author reviewers, quoting the little note that said “Sharon Shinn said you would be interested in seeing a galley of her upcoming book for possible review! Enjoy!” Was I interested? You better believe I was. And did I enjoy the book? Absolutely, although I have a few caveats.
Reader and Raelynx is the fourth novel in your Twelve Houses series. Although published as fantasy, the books all contain romantic storylines that take center stage. The series is set in Gillengaria, a kingdom where mystics (those people who have magical abilities) are frequently persecuted by those who fear them, and the books follow the fortunes of a group of friends, five mystics and two elite soldiers belonging to the king’s personal guard, as they seek to help Gillengaria’s sympathetic King Baryn.
As Reader and Raelynx opens, the group is dispersed, with shapeshifters Kirra and Donnal prowling though the kingdom and newlyweds Justin and Ellynor (he a king’s rider and she a mystic with healing and cloaking abilities) still honeymooning in the Lirrenlands. Senneth, a powerful fire mystic, and her husband Tayse, another king’s rider, are in Ghosenhall, Gillengaria’s capital, as is Cammon, an exceptionally gifted young mystic who can read people’s emotions and silently communicate with them.
It is Cammon who first senses the dark intent of an assassin sent by Baryn’s enemies to murder the king, and who helps Tayse and Senneth neutralize this threat. Shortly afterward, Cammon is invited to live in the palace, where he can watch over Princess Amalie as suitors come from throughout the kingdom to seek her hand in marriage. The king and his queen, Valri, both fear that one of those suitors may try to do Amalie harm, and Cammon’s job is to spy on their emotions and try to sense if any of them pose a danger to the princess.
Things get more complicated as Cammon and Amalie, friends since their shared journey together in The Thirteenth House, develop an even warmer rapport. Cammon is warned repeatedly by more than one person (including Senneth and the queen) that his station is far below Amalie’s and that he’s not to get too familiar with her. But he’s caught in a bind when the princess is angry and hurt each time he tries to heed these warnings and pull away.
Cammon knows that the princess will have to marry someone else for political reasons, and that he should not make her his friend, or worse, fall in love with her. But he can’t change his feelings, which deepen more with every day. Two by two, Cammon’s friends return to Ghosenhall and observe that like the rest of them, he can’t help but love unwisely.
Cammon also senses that Queen Valri possesses some unusual abilities which she uses to protect Amalie, but he’s not sure what it is that Valri is trying to hide. Then, one day, Cammon and Amalie visit the raelnyx that resides in the palace gardens. It is a dangerous creature over which only a very few people can exert even partial control. To Cammon’s shock, Amalie not only controls the raelnyx better than he’s ever seen anyone do, the beast actually responds to her with affection. Cammon fears that he’s inadvertently uncovered a terrifying secret that could throw the kingdom into complete chaos — Princess Amalie herself may possess mystical powers.
As Cammon struggles over what, if anything, he should do with his suspicions, the rumblings of war grow louder. Senneth, furious with Cammon for forgetting his place and befriending the princess, leaves with Tayse, Kirra and Donnal on a mission to recruit mystics to fight for the king. Elsewhere, troops are amassing for an epic battle that will determine who sits on Gillengaria’s throne. And then Cammon and the princess fall into reckless, desperate, impossible love…
Reader and Raelnyx is the climactic book in this series (although I understand there will be at least one more related book). It brings together many threads from the three previous novels and the novella “When Winter Comes,” and for the most part, does this successfully.
I admit that at the outset I was a bit skeptical as to whether I would enjoy a book focused so closely on Cammon. In the past I had found him a little annoying, perhaps because he possessed such an array of magical abilities and was so quick to learn to use them, and perhaps because he was so trusting and friendly (I know it’s irrational, but sometimes I balk at liking characters who are so open and nice, while saving a soft spot for the flawed, the prickly and the complicated).
But this was a non-issue in Reader and Raelynx, where the sweet pain of forbidden love throws Cammon into passion and self-doubt. His devotion to Amalie is so complete that he is willing to remain by her side even at the cost of seeing her wed someone else, or to pay the price of leaving Gillengaria and the friends who make up the only family he has if Amalie falls in love with someone else and sends him away from her. Here Cammon is vulnerable and yet willing to endure any heartache, and the sweetness of his love won me over.
As for Amalie, she is quite possibly my favorite female character in the Twelve Houses books. She’s intelligent, headstrong and deeply lonely, isolated by her royal birth and by her father’s protectiveness of her. Despite her youth and her inexperience, she knows what she wants and it is Cammon’s friendship and love. Gillengaria’s well-being is also important to her, as are her father and stepmother. And as war wraps itself around her lands, Amalie comes of age as she witnesses others sacrifice their lives.
Amalie and Cammon’s forbidden love was beautifully handled, and I enjoyed the rest of the story as well. It was especially nice to get another glimpse of Darryn and Sosie and to visit the mystical town of Carrebos. I liked that we learned more about the mysterious Queen Valri, too, and enjoyed the direction her relationship with Cammon took.
As much as I liked the book I am nicking a few points off of my grade because I felt that toward the end, some of the plot twists that resolved the various conflicts were a bit too convenient (particularly one involving Rayson Fortunalt) and because there was so much attention given to Senneth in the later sections of the book.
I like Senneth very much, but I’ve already read a lot about her in the previous books, and I enjoyed Cammon and Amalie’s love story so much that I wanted the focus to stay on them, so that I could spend even more time with them in these pages. But you had so many different elements to juggle in this book that I can see why this wasn’t always possible.
I closed Reader and Raelnyx feeling satisfied and happy, and gladly recommend it to our readers. B+.
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Dear Ms. Shinn:
I am an unabashed fangirl of yours and my review might be a case of heightened expectations. Dark Moon Defender was one of my favorite books of 2006.
Reader and Raelynx suffered from too many characters jockeying for space, the use of magical contrivances to have “good” win over evil. While there was some attempt at showing that the religion, in and of itself was not an evil, but the users of it could be, mostly it was bald battle between Senneth, the good, and Coralinda Gisseltess, the bad. There was a question I had about the world construct that was never answered. If the magic that each human had was a gift from one of the gods, what happens to the magic when the god no longer exists?
Janine hinted at this in her review. While I love Senneth, she simply overshadowed the story of Cammon and Amalie. Was it that Cammon, in his youthful exuberance and sunny disposition, was not well suited to carry a book on his own? Was it that Senneth was simply too powerful a character that she simply could not help but to take front stage?
Much of the story was no revelation. The hints of what was to come were given too broadly in previous books. Amalie’s secret, Valri’s secret, the power of Coralinda Gisseltess, the fall of Halchon Gisseltess, were all easily sussed out. To some extent Reader and Raelynx served as a series of mini denouements with all the crescendos and peaks occurring in previous books.
The story seemed to predictable and allowed for no sense of discovery. The forbidden love between Amalia and Cammon was telegraphed from book 2. It was no surprise that it happened, nor that it played out the way that it did.
The nuances that Janine talks about above, the way that Cammon made himself vulnerable and was willing to be with Amalie, no matter if she married, no matter if she loved elsewhere, were what saved the book for me. There was a good deal of humor when Cammon serves as the “reader” of the suitor’s intentions toward Amalie. In the hands of a less skilled author, this might have been a did not finish. I did enjoy it but it took me several days to read it. For a devoted follower of the series, this is probably a must read. For new readers, I wouldn’t recommend this one and for those on the shelf, I would say wait for the paperback copy. C