REVIEW: Dark Moon Defender by Sharon Shinn
Dear Ms. Shinn:
Before I start fawning all over this book, can I say something about the cover? What is with this guy’s lips? They’re huge! They look like they are stolen from Angelina Jolie. The more I look at this guy, the less attractive he is to me. All right, enough about the book cover.
This is the third in your Gillengaria series. I loved Mystic and Rider which introduced us to 6 disparate characters brought together for a journey into southern Gillengaria. The story focused primarily on Senneth, the most powerful mystic in the land, and Tayse, a leader of the King’s Riders. The second story, Thirteenth House, told the tragic love story between Kirra Danalustrous, a noblewoman, and married man of the Thirteenth House. I was a bit distraught at the end of Thirteenth House. I suffered through so much emotional turmoil for that book only to arrive at an unsatisfactory conclusion. I still feel that Kirra’s life is unfinished, that she is not yet complete. But DMD is such an utterly romantic book that it makes up for the 13th House.
Justin is a King’s Rider. A King’s Rider is one of 50 men handpicked by King of Gillengaria for their strength and loyalty. One character describes the riders and the mystique around them as follows:
“Fifty men and women whose lives are dedicated to protecting the crown. They train all day-on foot, on horseback-they practice with swords, with crossbows, with daggers, with bare hands. It is said that it takes two men to hold a Rider at bay, three men to kill him, four men to find the courage to drag his body to a grave. And a whole battalion to run in fear from his fellow Riders who come to avenge his death.”
He grew up on the streets, robbing and assaulting when one day he picked the wrong man to mark. That man was Tayse. Tayse saw something in Justin and brought him to Goshenall, the seat of the King, to train with the Riders. Justin’s whole focus in life is to be a Rider, worthy of the opportunity that Tayse gave him.
Justin is ordered south to spy on Coralinda Gisseltess and the Lumen Convent. The Lumen convent is run by Coralinda Gisseltess. She is a fanatic bent on eradicating mystics from Gillengaria. She is gathering a huge army and together with her brother, Halchon Gisseltess who has aspirations for the throne, will set brother against brother in a Gillengarian civil war.
Ellynor is a Lirren girl. The Lirrens, politically, reminded me a bit of the ancient Scottish clan system. There are smaller clans that are part of a larger family of clans. There are alliances and sworn enemies. For a girl to marry outside of her sebahta-ris, her lover must fight and kill one of the girl’s family members. The reason Ellynor is at the convent is because her cousin, Rosarie, fell in love with an opposing clan member, and she was shipped off to the convent to quell those rebellious feelings. You can tell a Lirren girl by her hair. The Lirren women paint the family heraldry in their hair.
If anyone were to come across Rosurie, lost or ill or dead-unable to speak- he could unpin her hair and know exactly to which family she belonged. Even if she was found by one of the warring sebahta, one who hated the Plesa family, she would be returned to them, safe from further harm.
The conflict is immediate and seemingly insurmountable. Justin is a mystic sympathizer. Ellynor is a novice of a convent that is set up for the sole purpose of destroying mystics. Should Justin and Ellynor fall in love, Justin would have to kill one of Ellynor’s beloved brothers or her father or her cousin or someone that she values.
This is a book you can read without the first two, but if a reader does she will be missing such rich and precious stories. This story carries on the larger, epic saga of mystic against non believer. The drama, the suspense, each page brings us closer to the finale–the great war that must be coming between the Pale Mother and the mystics. Between Coralinda Gisseltess and Senneth. Between Halchon and Tayse. Between the North and the South of Gillengaria. To the smaller more intimate battle between Justin and one of Ellynor’s beloved family members. It focuses on how differences can stir fear, incite hate to a destructive degree. But against this larger backdrop is the intimate story of two young people who fall in love and what they are willing to sacrifice for that love.
This is a novel about people, love and family. Family is an important theme for the series and also for the book. The Lirren clans are built on the importance of family and Justin has no background, the son of a whore. The question is asked more than once, what one would do for love? Would you allow your brother to be killed? Would you betray your father? Would you give up your friends, your people, your way of llife? Would you sacrifice all for the sake of one?
There is this marvelous scene between Tayse and Justin about love and it is not some stupid alpha male speak, nor is it the female speak we often hear out of the mouths of alpha heroes. This is an exchange between two warriors about how love will change your life.
In the end, when Justin declares his love for Ellynor, when he invites her to join his family, the tears are flowing. What is so remarkable is that I’ve heard this speech from Tayse. Oh, not a speech exactly, but thoughts and his thoughts are so his own and Justin’s thoughts are so his own. You have so intimately captured who these characters are. They never mimick each other. They are always true to themselves. It is simply remarkable.
I know war is coming to Gillengaria and I dread it. I have come to care for these people, even the ones you haven’t written about because I, for the space of the book, live inside your world and am one of them. This is a Keeper. A.