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REVIEW: Wrapt in Crystal by Sharon Shinn

Dear Ms Shinn,

crystal.gifI hadn’t known, or perhaps I’d just forgotten, that this book was a police procedural murder mystery. I did know that it involved priestesses so expected some religious element but I had not expected to be blown away by how wonderfully you would work that into the story. And while the book is set on a faraway planet, it features themes that are probably eternal everywhere: religion, greed, love and redemption.

From the Publisher
On a planet of barren beauty near the edge of the civilized galaxy, two religions are practiced. Both sects worship the same goddess – the Triumphantes in joy and splendor, the Fideles in solemnity and selflessness. As different as day and night, sun and shadow, joy and grief, the two sects are now bound together in death… A serial killer is stalking the priestesses, killing first a Triumphante, then a Fidele, in turn. Six women are now dead, and the planetary authorities are at a loss. Enter Interfed Agent Cowen Drake. A cunning professional, he must immerse himself in an unfamiliar world of stark spirituality to catch the killer. A world that will trap him between opulence and sacrifice, between duty and desire, and between two extraordinary women – one who could become the killer’s ultimate victim…

When I think of a scifi book, I don’t think of a police procedural crossed with religious soul searching. But that is just what we get with “Wrapt in Crystal.” And a healthy dollop of your smooth, evocative prose. While the book is not what I would call a true romance it does have deep romantic underpinnings.

I liked the grounding in the Spanish/French culture and language and how you showed the passage of generations in how it’s not quite what we know today – no language stays static over thousands of years and across colonization. This basis in familiarity made me feel less lost when trying to figure out the worldbuilding. And thank you for not using names that are spelled weirdly and filled with apostrophes. For some reason, those irk me and by the time I finish an entire book filled with them, I’m not a happy camper. Most of references were okay but I did notice a few slips (referring to earthbound, using radios so far into the future and the visicubes seemed a bit clunky).

I’m not sure I’m up to partying with Moonchildren anymore but I wouldn’t mind having one of them at my back during a fight. I enjoyed reading about Lise and agree with her that Drake is a great guy for just allowing her to be who she is and party as hard as she wants. And with her kick-ass skills, I think she could take on just about anyone with badass pretensions.

I read one review that lowballed the book because Cowan Drake wasn’t a muscle bound, macho guy. To me, he was never described as one nor did I ever think of him as one. I saw him more as a lean, cerebral man who can fight off the bad guys when he needs to. And instead of just telling us this, you show it in how he solves the case– a mix of slow, dogged follow up crossed with insight and gut feeling which ends with an action sequence. As with any police book, I’m more impressed that he didn’t solve it with one grand “Ah-Ha!” moment. I also like that he’s given a real reason for his angst and loss of any religious faith and that this hasn’t totally been resolved by books’ end.

Religion is hard to write about but I think you balanced things nicely. The entire book ends up being a quiet debate of the nature of religious worship – Triumphante vs Fidele, aesthetes vs ascetics, joyful worship vs subdued service and even the trickle down theory of spreading wealth. I liked that both sides were portrayed sympathetically and loved watching the different ceremonies.

While someone who has read more scifi books might quibble with the world-building, it felt thorough to me. We see all sides of Semay society from very wealthy to very poor, the politics, the law abiders and law breakers. The details, such as the names of the amicas and ermanas, helped me feel like I was truly in another world. I could see Fidele leader as Mother Theresa and laughed with delight at the analogy of the Triumphante leader to a French mistress.

As I said earlier about the murder mystery I like that Drake didn’t solve it instantly. That he had moments of inspiration and moments of weary plodding through witnesses and tracking down information. It seemed realistic. Yet once I knew how things played out, I could see the clues which, though they were there, were not too obvious. The suspense built nicely and by the end I couldn’t turn the pages quickly enough as my heart was racing when killer has been identified and Drake is desperately trying to track him down and prevent a final death.

So, why is the grade not an A? Laura, that’s why. She was a bit too “I don’t care if I die,” martyr to the cause, I’m not worthy of love. I ended up being just a little bit tired of reading this same refrain and sighing with relief when we got back to Jovieve. I thought she was more of a balanced character. While she was usually more happy and true to her name, Joie de vivre, she could also show depth and insight into human suffering. I also had some trouble believing the change in Drake’s love interest.

While the book ends up being a B for me, I didn’t find it to be lesser than the Samaria books nor do I regret the time spent reading it.

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

5 Comments

  1. Aoife
    Jun 20, 2007 @ 04:01:44

    This is the book of Sharon Shinn’s that I reread the least, for exactly the reason you articulated: Laura. I liked Drake very much, but Laura, while not whiney, precisely, seemed determined to Suffer. And my tolerance for that is fairly low. The thing about Sharon Shinn, though, is that she is willing to write heroines who aren’t stereotypical, and may not always be likeable. I appreciate that, and it is one of the reasons she is an autobuy for me.

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  2. kardis
    Jun 20, 2007 @ 07:43:45

    I also found Laura to be a bit too much of a martyr but I liked Drake and Jovieve so much. It’s been so long since I read this book that I honestly can’t remember if I figured out who the killer was. Somehow I doubt it, but I do remember the subtlety of the hints given by Ms. Shinn. It is by no means my favorite of her books, but still certainly worth rereading. I will say though, I thought that the planet using radios etc added to the backwater feel of the planet. (But full disclosure here: I’m a lazy reader and often overlook and/or rationalize a lot of such details in books.)

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  3. Keishon
    Jun 20, 2007 @ 08:52:04

    I don’t really venture out into her backlist. I have this book actually with no plans to read it anytime soon.

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  4. Janine
    Jun 20, 2007 @ 09:16:06

    I liked this book very much, and also kept it to reread. I loved the procedural / suspense aspects and the surprising nature of the mystery.

    I agree about Laura, but I also agree with Aoife. One of the charms of Sharon Shinn’s books for me is that her heroines aren’t always entirely likeable. In fact I think it’s one of the best things about her books, that she doesn’t try to cater to an audience when creating her heroines.

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    Regarding Drake’s love interest, I didn’t feel that it really changed. I saw the making love with Jovieve as being something that Jovieve did in her role as priestess, in order to heal Drake, and I felt that that was all it was to him too, a healing experience, not a romantic one. When his relationship with Laura deepened, I felt that was partly as a result of the emotionally healing experience with Jovieve. So this aspect of the book was convincing to me.

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  5. Aoife
    Jun 20, 2007 @ 12:13:37

    Janine, I agree with you that Drake’s love interest didn’t switch. His relationship with Jovieve was therapeutic rather than romantic, and neither of them seemed confused about it, as I recall. The analogy for me is that she gave him the sexual equivalent of a few nourishing and tasty meals, and sent him on his way.

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