I’ll go there again!
Sharon Shinn has long been one of my favorite authors. I love the futuristic technology mixed with religion in her Samaria series, and the hero/heroine pairings and adventures in the Twelve Houses series.
I remember loving the first book in this new series, Troubled Waters, and after finishing this third installment, I’m pretty desperate to get my hands on a copy of the second: Royal Airs.
In Jeweled Fire, young princess Corene is the narrator and heroine. Corene has lived in her elder sister Josette’s shadow for most of their lives, and so she decides to step out of it, to have adventures, to figure out what path she really wants her life to take. At first, she only admits to herself that she is hunting for a prince, and a crown – the things she has been raised to expect, and which she thinks will give her independence and success.
She takes the impulsive step of hiding away on a visiting empress’ ship as the empress returns to her own realm. With her is her recently-discovered, supposed grandson – a young man who grew up a farmer but was discovered by Corene’s stepmother, a powerful water mage. Also with her, a young palace guard whose previous charge was Corene’s sister. The story opens with Corene and the imperial party arriving at the capital port in the capital city of the foreign empire. What is supposed to be a gathering of princesses (a gaggle?) arranged to marry off the imperial heirs turns out to be something more sinister. As Corene stays in the palace, getting to know the other visiting princesses and eligible ladies and the heirs, the danger mounts and the hidden agendas begin to reveal themselves. Corene, intelligent, perceptive, and outspoken, holds her own but is glad to have her steadfast guard, Foley, with her.
The romance begins as a game to Corene, who seems to perceive things about herself without really noticing that she’s aware of them. She teases Foley, not quite sure why she does it, and why she feels the way she does. Foley’s feelings are obscure to Corene as well, although she does sense some deeper connection behind his loyalty and dedication. He relies on silences and distractions to try not to give anything away. Shinn does an excellent job showing readers how he feels while directly revealing only what Corene sees and understands. I’ve mentioned it before – it adds such interest to a story when the narration is given fully through the narrator’s eyes.
The story starts off so slowly that a couple of times I was tempted to put it down. It’s never action-filled, the plot is driven more cerebrally, as befits a story about court intrigue. Then there’s murder, a mystery, attempted murder, hostages and an escape, and a naval blockade. So, it gets more interesting.
Corene is one of the most interesting characters, with her acute perception and observation contrasting sharply with the blind spots she cannot see – in herself, and in others. She grows substantially over the course of the novel, shrinking those blind spots and becoming more and more confident.
With its uncomplicated plot, mature heroine, and character-building, this book will appeal to adult fantasy fans as well as young adult fantasy fans.