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REVIEW: Fortune and Fate by Sharon Shinn

Dear Ms. Shinn,

I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never read any of your novels before. Given how long I’ve been a fantasy reader, I don’t know how I managed to accomplish that. I hope my blogging partners here at Dear Author won’t hold it against me since several of them love your books. Better late than never, right?

To be honest, this probably wasn’t the best novel of yours to start with. First of all, it’s the fifth installment of an established series. While I didn’t get lost or confused at any point in the book, I could tell I was missing a lot of texture and richness when it came to the characterizations and relationships. I don’t think the book suffered because of it but I feel that people who’ve read previous books in the series would have gotten more out of it than a new reader like me would. That’s a just a theory though. I’d be interested in hearing from any other new readers who started with this book and what they thought about the presentation of characters and events.

I liked the idea of this book. So many fantasy novels are devoted to the build-up of society-altering war. While I doubt I’ll ever grow tired of well-written books exploring that subject, I also like reading about what happens after the war, especially to those who’ve been left behind or who have survived. Wen epitomizes the broken soldier: she suffers from survivor’s guilt because she failed to protect the king she served. Her entire life was devoted to being a Rider and with her failure and the king’s resulting death, she lost her purpose in life. These days, she wanders the countryside without purpose, helping random people in need in order to atone for her failure.

In many ways, this book is a recovery story of how Wen heals the wound left on her heart. It’s true that there are 49 other Riders but Wen was of two guarding the king at the time he died. I enjoyed the parts devoted to this plotline the most, in which Wen finds herself stuck at Fortune, trying to cobble together a guard to protect the life of the much-hated Rayson Fortunalt’s daughter and heir, Karryn. I love stories like this: forming an unit, training together, and making them a strong fighting force. I realize it’s mundane and not at all the flashiness you’d expect from the fantasy genre, but those small details combined with Wen’s struggle to overcome her self-loathing made it work for me.

I also liked the bits we saw of Karryn, who has to fight against the legacy left behind by her despised father. While a part of me suspects we will eventually see a book about Karryn and Ryne in the future (and I wouldn’t object to this), I enjoyed how you gave us a character who tried to do the exact opposite of her father and become the sort of noble that engenders loyalty and devotion among her followers and people.

On the other hand, I thought those two storylines were overshadowed by Cammon and the others. I know the previous books were about these characters so maybe this was meant to serve as a “Hello, again” to them but since I haven’t read them, I wasn’t interested. And maybe because I haven’t read them, I felt Cammon’s storyline was overindulgent and unnecessary. I don’t think it added much to the book, frankly. Even when we get to the inevitable meeting between Cammon’s group and Wen, I still don’t think its importance warranted the number of the pages it received.

I’ve also heard from Jane and Janine that your books tend to be romantic as well. I’m going to have to assume this book is not one of the best examples because I didn’t find Wen and Jasper’s burgeoning relationship romantic. I thought it was interesting in the beginning with their nightly meetings, but the development and culmination didn’t quite live up to the expectatations I’d formed. Perhaps that was my mistake for making assumptions and having high expectations.

While this book didn’t make me fall madly in love with your work and want to rush out and buy your entire backlist, it did succeed in making me interested about the previous books in this series. I do think, however, this is a book best enjoyed by existing fans of the Thirteen Houses series and best skipped by new readers — at least until they’ve read the previous installments. C+

My regards,
Jia

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

18 Comments

  1. Caitie
    Nov 11, 2008 @ 15:40:00

    I know a lot of readers adore the Archangel books, but haven’t enjoyed Sharon Shinn’s series books over the years (Archangel or 13 Houses), as much as her standalones – some of my all time favorite books are “Summers at Castle Auburn,” or a close second “Heart of Gold”

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  2. Anya
    Nov 11, 2008 @ 15:57:36

    Agreed, Caitie. “Summers at Castle Auburn” is one of my absolute favorite books ever. It’s unfortunate that my local bookstore usually only has 2 or 3 of Sharon Shinn in stock, and seemingly only the Archangel series (not that that’s a bad thing, but I already own copies), because I really want to read more of her.

    Jia, you should definitely try “Summers at Castle Auburn”, or one of the Archangel series. I haven’t actually read any of the 13 Houses series (for some reason my bookstore never seems to have it), but Archangel and “Summers at Castle Auburn” are among my favorite books. If I was back home across the pond, I would be able to figure out which one was my favorite of the Archangel series, but I’m not quite sure, so read them all!

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  3. Janine
    Nov 11, 2008 @ 16:35:34

    I haven’t read Fortune and Fate yet, but I’ve enjoyed almost everything else I’ve read of Shinn’s, to various degrees. My favorite of her series is the angel series. Archangel is the best starting place for those, but it is impossible for me to pick a favorite among them.

    I also enjoyed her YA series beginning with The Safe Keeper’s Secret very much. The Twelve Houses books aren’t quite as strong IMO (with the exception of the fabulous Dark Moon Defender), but I still enjoyed them for the most part.

    While I liked Summers at Castle Auburn, it is not my favorite of hers. Of her stand alone books, my favorite is Heart of Gold, followed closely by Wrapt in Crystal.

    I was so excited when I heard that Shinn will be coming out with a collection of four novellas next year, and one of the novellas is set in the world of Heart of Gold (the other novellas will be set in Samaria [the angel world], Gillengaria [the twelve houses world] and the world of Summers at Castle Auburn). But it’s the world of Heart of Gold that I most look forward to revisiting.

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  4. Shiloh Walker
    Nov 11, 2008 @ 17:07:07

    I’m a major fan of her archangel series, and I loved Heart of Gold

    haven’t read the others though.

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  5. Jorrie Spencer
    Nov 11, 2008 @ 18:03:34

    Hey, I loved Heart of Gold too. I didn’t know it was such a favorite.

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  6. SonomaLass
    Nov 11, 2008 @ 18:24:20

    I loved the Archangel books, and I found the earlier books in the Houses series to be good reads. Not great, but perfectly good, and I am interested to see what she does in the aftermath of the war.

    I would never have recommended that anyone start this series with this book. So far, each book has really built on the relationships developed earlier in the series. I, for one, would have been very disappointed if the characters who have been central in all the previous books (the original merry band, as it were) weren’t also important in this one. To me, that makes this book still part of the original series, rather than the start of a new series set in the same world. There were new characters coming and going throughout the earlier books, but there was always the core group that gathered in the first book, and who are all connected through Cammon.

    I think Jia is probably right to say that this book isn’t a good place to start the Twelve Houses novels, but people should check out reviews of the first book, Mystic and Rider, to see if this is a series they want to consider starting from the beginning.

    And thanks for the recommendations on her stand-alone books. I haven’t read any of those!

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  7. Karin
    Nov 11, 2008 @ 18:54:14

    I’ve never heard of this author before, but now my curiosity is piqued. I think I may have to look up her books and take a peak.

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  8. Eva_baby
    Nov 11, 2008 @ 20:13:34

    I have read pretty much all of Sharon Shinn and generally find her uneven. I liked some of the Archangel books but not all. I liked a few of the stand alones, but was very ‘meh’ on some of the others.

    But I have to say I loved the ‘Twelve Houses’ series. However knowing what I know, I would never recommend starting with this one. The group of six characters who come together in the first book (Mystic and Rider — which is the best the of the series, imo) are really the heart of the series. I was really surprised when I saw there was a 5th book, I just assumed that Common’s book (the 4th of the series, Reader and Raelynx) was the last book. Imo, it was the natural ending of the series.

    I do recommend the first book of the series. It is strongly romantic and I admit that I have a hard-core girl crush of the main female character, Senneth.

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  9. orannia
    Nov 11, 2008 @ 20:53:43

    Thank you Jia! I adored the Archangel books and reading this review has made me want to read them all again and perhaps delve into Sharon Shinn’s other books :)

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  10. Tae
    Nov 11, 2008 @ 20:58:45

    I’m a huge fan of Sharon Shinn and have read everything she’s written up to General Winston’s Daughter and this book. I loved the Angel books and that’s definitely where I’d suggest romance readers to start. Her standalones are interesting since they usually take already established stories and turns them into fantasy novels or sf. Take Jenna Starborn for instance… if you’ve read Jane Eyre, you’ll see the comparisons immediately. I’ve enjoyed the 12 houses series thus far, so I look forward to this.

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  11. Kaz Augustin
    Nov 11, 2008 @ 21:07:56

    Oh cool. I’m always on the lookout for interesting takes on fantasy. Sorry to say I haven’t heard of Shinn till now but, thanks to this review and the comments, have just put a couple of her books on my Fictionwise Wishlist. All I need now is the next Fw promotion. LOL

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  12. Aoife
    Nov 11, 2008 @ 21:09:59

    I just finished Fortune and Fate and would probably have graded it a B- rather than in the C range, but that is undoubtedly because I read everything Sharon Shinn writes, and have an emotional investment in the Twelve Houses series. Overall, though, I think this is probably the weakest book in the series, at least partly because there was, for me, a sense of anticlimax after the events in Reader and Raelynx. I agree that starting the series here probably really affected your enjoyment of the book–kind of like showing up at a really great party just as the host is clearing the leftovers off the buffet table.

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  13. Elizabeth N
    Nov 11, 2008 @ 23:36:10

    I have read almost all of Sharon Shinn’s books and have actually gotten my husband hooked as well. Started him with “Summers at Castle Auburn” and he then went out and found all the “Safe Keeper’s Secret” series.

    I had read “Mystic and Rider” when it first came out & enjoyed it. I knew that more were out in the series, but had gotten sidetracked by discovering other authors and their backlists. This weekend I started reading “Fortune and Fate” at BN, purchased it, and enjoyed it tremendously. I vaguely remembered some of the characters from “Mystic & Rider” but not details and not characters introduced later in the series. For me, the book’s appeal is Wen’s developing attachment – and her responses to that attachment – to Fortune, Karryn & Jaspar. Wen’s romance with Jaspar was also much in the style that I remembered from previous Shinn novels.

    “Fortune and Fate” did inspire me to go out and purchase 2 of the 3 missing books in the series (I have 1, 2 and 5) and I hope to find the third the next time I’m in town. I did attempt to start the two that I found but felt that the depth of detail in the storyline would read better if I went back to book one and read straight through.

    So, as someone who had not read any but the first of the twelve houses novels and that was a long while ago, I would feel comfortable recommending this book to a reader new to the series and/or Shinn’s work. Like myself, they might then feel inspired to find the previous books to flesh out the story that lead to events in “Fortune and Fate.”

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  14. loonigrrl
    Nov 12, 2008 @ 03:42:18

    I too have really enjoyed both the Archangel books and Summers at Castle Auburn. For some reason, I haven’t been all that interested in trying this series. However, your review does kind of make me want to check it out.

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  15. vanessa jaye
    Nov 12, 2008 @ 07:13:42

    I’ll have to check out Heart of Gold. I have several of her books in my tbr pile, but the only one I’ve read, and it was a keeper, is The Shaper-Changer’s Wife.

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  16. Sandy D.
    Nov 12, 2008 @ 10:07:12

    I like everything by Sharon Shinn that I’ve read (and I’ve read all but a few of the stand-alones). I love the Twelfth House series, but have found them a little uneven. That said, I agree that “Fortune and Fate” is definitely *not* the place to start with these books.

    I really enjoyed “Fortune and Fate” and would have given it an A-. For me, the C book was the last one – “Reader and Raelynx”. I thought it was too busy, tried to wrap up too many loose ends, too much battle and not enough of the characters I’ve come to enjoy. So I was very happy to see “Fortune and Fate” as more focused, but still giving me some insight into the lives of the other characters. Plus, it was a nice surprise to find a book from a series that I thought was finished.

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  17. MB
    Nov 12, 2008 @ 16:01:15

    I’ve read the Archangel series, the Mystic & Rider series (YES! Read these in order!) and “Summers At Castle Auburn” but hadn’t tried the other books since they looked like they were for younger readers.

    Thanks everyone for the recommendations! I’ve just put a hold on “Heart of Gold” and “Wrapt in Crystal”. I’ve been trying to get a hold of a copy of “The Shape-Changer’s Wife” but no luck so far.

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  18. Angie
    Nov 14, 2008 @ 14:10:40

    I’m sorry you weren’t thrilled with this one. As everyone has said, it was definitely not the place to start. MYSTIC AND RIDER, the first in the series, is wonderful and vies with ARCHANGEL for my very favorite Shinn novel. Don’t give up! I would give ARCHANGEL a try for something totally different from the Twelve Houses books and if you like it, perhaps come back to MYSTIC AND RIDER.

    Eva_baby, who doesn’t have a girl-crush on Senneth? She is made of awesome.

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