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REVIEW: Dark Moon Defender by Sharon Shinn

Dear Ms. Shinn,

Dark Moon Defender (A Novel of the Twelve Houses)This book was so good that after finishing it I kept saying to myself, "This book was so good! This book was so good!" I sat down at my computer to write this letter and like an inarticulate idiot, all I could think to say was "This book was so good!– 

Yes, Dark Moon Defender was a very, very good book, and easily the most romantic thing I've read that came out in 2006. Thus far it's also my favorite of your Twelve Houses books, which began with Mystic and Rider“>Mystic and Rider and continued in The Thirteenth House. As I'm writing this Jane has already sung Dark Moon Defender's praises, but my plan is to wait until it comes out in paperback to post my letter, so that readers who can't afford hardcover prices won't have to wait months after reading my raves to get their hands on it.

The plot centers on Justin, a member of the King of Gillengaria's elite guard who is sent to spy in the Northeastern corner of his kingdom. In Mystic and Rider and The Thirteenth House, Justin became part of a tight-knit group that includes himself and five of his friends, four of whom have magical powers. He misses the other five on his spying mission in this book, but one day he sees a young novice from the nearby Lumanen Convent being accosted in the street, and he comes to her rescue. That is how he meets Ellynor.

Ellynor came to the Lumanen Convent to accompany her cousin Rosurie who was sent there in disgrace after falling in love with a young man who was an outsider to their clan. Ellynor and Rosurie are from the Lirrenlands, where men are extremely protective of their womenfolk and in order for a girl to marry an outsider, the man she loves must kill a champion from her family, typically her brother or her father.

But that is not the only obstacle that Ellynor, who quickly falls for Justin and beings to meet with him in secret, must face. Coralinda Gisseltess, the self-styled Lestra who runs the Lumanen convent, fears those with mystical powers, and Ellynor has some unusual abilities that could get her killed if they should be discovered. It is only after she and Justin fall in love that Ellynor learns from him that the Lestra has been commanding her soldiers to kill mystics who have done harm to no one. When Justin realizes that Ellynor is in danger, he pleads with her to leave the convent. But leaving turns out not to be an easy thing.

Dark Moon Defender is narrated in sections alternating the viewpoints of Justin, Ellynor, and Justin's mystic friend Senneth. I loved the romantic relationship between Justin and Ellynor, and enjoyed the sections in Senneth's POV, which focused on Justin's friends, Kirra, Donnal, Cammon, Tayse and Senneth herself, almost as much.

This book is Romantic with a capital R. Not only does Justin and Ellynor's courtship have both the allure of forbidden love and the purity of two hearts discovering for the first time what a true romantic commitment is, but Senneth and Tayse's mature love is also moving, and there are romances involving other secondary characters as well.

Justin is such a masculine guy and Ellynor such a feminine young woman that I'm still trying to figure out why their pairing doesn't feel clichà©d to me. Maybe it's because Justin and Ellynor are caught up in a conflict that is far greater than the two of them, an approaching war that threatens to tear them apart forever if they don't hold on with all the tenacity of young love. Maybe it's because they are each individuals with pasts, communities, and loyalties of their own that they bring to their relationship. Maybe it is because they are more than the archetypes they fit.

Whatever it is that makes this book work, it works like Senneth's amulet, like Kirra's shapeshifting, like Ellynor's ability to cloak herself in night. All the elements –" the romance, the camaraderie, the epic battle between good and evil –" come together like (yes) magic, balance perfectly like the characteristics in some intoxicating wine.

When I closed this book, I was so happy that I almost felt a little drunk, so thrilled I might have just come down off a ferris wheel. Even now, a few hours later, I feel grateful to have a forum that allows me to write fan letters like this one, odes to books that make me fall in love. I can't imagine giving Dark Moon Defender any grade less than an A. Yes, it's this good.

Sincerely,

Janine

Dark Moon Defender is available in paperback starting tomorrow, September 25, 2007

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

19 Comments

  1. Keishon
    Sep 24, 2007 @ 16:03:35

    You know Janet, I have yet to start these books. My mom loves them. I really like Sharon Shinn so I can’t wait to dive into them one day.

  2. Janine
    Sep 24, 2007 @ 16:50:09

    Hi Keishon. It was actually my review, not Janet’s, but it was orignally tagged as Janet’s by mistake. I unfortunately have to go out of town very soon and so, I may not be able to reply to all the comments on this thread until sometime next week.

    Dark Moon Defender is my favorite book in this series, and it’s the one that really won me over to it wholeheartedly. Before I read it I was longing for more of Shinn’s angel books because I loved those so much. I still yearn for those sometimes, but I think this book is as good as any of them.

    I don’t feel that this is my best review, because it was hard for me to articulate why this book thrilled me so much. I feel like a bit of a fangirl here! :)

    I’m glad your mom has enjoyed the series and hope that you will, too.

  3. Jody W.
    Sep 24, 2007 @ 17:46:34

    I love Sharon Shinn’s work. Thanks for posting this review!

  4. Janine
    Sep 24, 2007 @ 18:39:37

    You’re welcome, Jody.

  5. Kat
    Sep 24, 2007 @ 20:02:17

    I’m intrigued by this review, but I haven’t read any other books in this series. Can this book stand alone or am I better off starting with book 1?

  6. Janine
    Sep 24, 2007 @ 20:30:09

    It’s hard for me to answer that, because I read the books in order. The main romantic relationship in the book starts in this book and is resolved in this book, but the larger Gillengaria story and most of the other relationships, both friendships and romantic, have their start in earlier books or are at least hinted at earlier.

    My tendency is to think that you might be better off to start with book 1 (Mystic and Rider, a great favorite of Jane’s, and a book I enjoyed as well). But that’s almost always my answer when asked about series. I’m an anal reader and I prefer to read series books in order, so take that into account. Jane might have a different opinion.

    And if other people here has started the series with this book, maybe they could offer an opinion?

  7. Ann Bruce
    Sep 24, 2007 @ 20:32:24

    I was so happy that I almost felt a little drunk

    Nice turn of phrase. :)

    Same question as Kat: do the books need to be read in order? And is there a finite number of books in the series? Or is there no end in sight, yet.

  8. Janine
    Sep 24, 2007 @ 21:03:40

    Thanks, that is nice to hear. :)

    See my reply to Kat. It helps to read them in order, I think, but they can probably be enjoyed out of order too.

    As I understand it, this was originally intended to be a four-book series (#4, Reader and Raelynx, comes out early in November). But Sharon Shinn is working on a fifth book, which is related. The major storyline of the war in Gillengaria is wrapped up in the fourth book, and the characters who appear in all the books have their romances wrapped up in the first four books, so I think the fifth is more of a spinoff or an offshoot than an true continuation.

  9. CJ
    Sep 25, 2007 @ 09:02:59

    That’s so funny that everyone wants to know how to start Sharon Shinn. I have been wondering, too, ever since LKH had Anita reading her on a plane somewhere, and she was one of Anita’s favorite authors, if I recall, which was quite the recommendation to me at the time. Alas, I never quite got through the later Anita books, and I never quite got my Sharon Shinn, either, but I have always remembered that.

    I think I have never gotten a Sharon Shinn book partly because there are SO many of them. I’d get daunted, and I’m sort of a newbie to the major fantasy side of things. How to choose! So a long way of saying, yes, this is my question too!

    I’m tempted to start with this one.

  10. Jill Myles
    Sep 25, 2007 @ 10:05:12

    CJ – I really loved ARCHANGEL – it’s the first book of her Samaria series. It’s extremely romantic. I think this is the one with Rachael and Gabriel. Love love love that book.

    I’ve read all of her Samaria books and a smattering of her other novels, but MYSTIC AND RIDER has been sitting in my TBR pile for a really long time, and I don’t know why. I think because as soon as I started it, it smacked me over the head with Massive Worldbuilding and it wasn’t an easy start.

    Hearing that the other books are so heavily romantic makes me want to pick it up and give it another go, though.

  11. Janine
    Sep 25, 2007 @ 10:26:22

    I was going to suggest starting with Archangel also. That was the one I started with and it was a great introduction to Sharon Shinn.

    Mystic and Rider is more accessible than it may seem at first, Jill. It’s worth reading but if you can’t get into it, skip ahead to Dark Moon Defender. You can always track back later. Book #2, The Thirteenth House, is probably my least favorite of Sharon Shinn’s books (and I’ve read them all except Jenna Starborn). I still enjoyed parts of it, but it’s not among her most romantic books IMO.

    This will probably be my last post here for a while, but I will reply to new messages here when I get back next week, if not sooner.

  12. CJ
    Sep 25, 2007 @ 10:53:49

    Thanks you, Jill and Janine! I am going to go for ARCHANGEL. I can’t wait.

  13. Jane
    Sep 25, 2007 @ 11:11:29

    I think that the series should be read in order although . . . I thought the Thirteenth House was a gut wrenching read and sometimes I wish I had skipped that one. Dark Moon Defender is by far the most romantic of the series and I loved the speeches that both Justin and Tayse make about their love for Ellynor and Senneth. DMD is worth reading just for those speeches. You’ll be hardpressed to find more eloquent declarations of love, even within romance.

  14. Jane A.
    Sep 25, 2007 @ 13:20:52

    I enjoyed Mystic And Rider, am excited to read Dark Moon Defender (especially after this review!), but dread The Thirteenth House. I could skip it and pick it up later, but I like her worldbuilding and don’t want to miss anything. Is the overall story arc advanced to an important degree in TTH? Decisions, decisions! :)

  15. kardis
    Sep 25, 2007 @ 14:44:42

    I would also recommend that people read the series in order, and it really is wonderful and worthwhile to do so.

    I actually wanted to respond to people’s concerns about The Thirteenth House. Although I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the other two, I was really happy with the way that it ended. I don’t want to give my reasons here because it is a major spoiler, but I wanted to at least put it out there that although it is somewhat of a downer I think it is also worth reading. Just my $0.02 :-)

  16. Jane A.
    Sep 25, 2007 @ 19:17:10

    kardis, thanks for your thoughts. You’ve convinced me, I’ll give it a try! Hmm, I have a feeling I know what pleases you at the ending, and if I’m right then I can see why it’s okay. kyrptic, eh? LOL It will be a rough road gettng there, but I’ll suck it up and trust that Sharon Shinn will deliver.

  17. kardis
    Sep 25, 2007 @ 20:47:31

    Well Jane A. I really hope that you enjoy it! Feel free to pelt me with virtual rotten tomatoes if I’m wrong!

  18. Jane A.
    Sep 26, 2007 @ 08:32:27

    No worries about rotten tomatoes, I’m not reading the book under duress. :) I was on the fence and it is nice to have your perspective.

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