Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Troubled Waters - Sharon Shinn

Summary:  After the death of her father -- a former royal advisor who'd fallen out of favor -- Zoe Ardelay  has little time to grieve before she receives astonishing news:  She has been chosen to become the king's fifth wife!

Unable to resist the ambassador sent to fetch her, Zoe accompanies him to the royal city.  Once there, she slips away and hides among those who live along the shores of the mighty river.  For Zoe is coru: ruled by the elemental sign of water.

Gradually she discovers that she is, in fact, the coru prime.  Which means she must return to the palace, not as an unwilling bride for the king but as a woman with power in her own right.

But the palace abounds with intrigue and deception.  As Zoe unlocks more of the mysteries of her blood -- and the secrets of the royal family -- she must make a decisions:  How best to use her great power?  (Summary from book sleeve - Image from

My Review: I am not exactly sure when or where I picked up this book; it sort of just appeared on my shelf.  *Poof* Like magic but cooler!  I have enjoyed several of the author's previous novels, especially the Samaria series (Archangel, Jovah's Angel, The Alleluia Files, and others) and a stand-alone clean romance named Summers at Castle Auburn, and so I was oh-so-game to give this book a try.

Troubled Waters is the first book in the Elemental Blessings series.  In it a young, recently orphaned young woman named Zoe is selected to be the elderly king's fifth wife.  She travels accompanied by the king's man to the heart of the kingdom only to slip away in an unguarded moment and make her own way.  Zoe takes up residence in an encampment on the river flats, making friends and exploring the city, before finding a job at a local cobbler's shop.  It is during this time that Zoe uncovers certain skills inherited from her mother's bloodline -- elemental powers that will change the course of her life forever.  I'll stop there before I spoil anything else.  You're welcome.

One of my favorite aspects of of Shinn's writing is her ability to create a compelling belief system that feels organic, within an already fascinating world.  In Troubled Waters children are given three randomly chosen 'blessings' (metal tokens engraved with characteristics) shortly after birth that are thought to define their lives.  Each child also inherits elemental traits from their parents that shape their personalities and determine their destiny.  For example, in Troubled Waters, Zoe is blessed at birth with beautylove, and power and influenced by both her father's sweela (fire/mind) line and mother's coru (water/blood) line.  The concept of these randomly chosen blessings and inherited elemental bloodlines isn't just an afterthought, but an integral part of the story and woven into a setting that felt exceptionally authentic.  The whole belief system and world that Shinn created for her characters was rather charming and it ended up being my favorite part of the book.

Initially I was rather intrigued by Zoe's story -- a girl on her own, gifted with elemental powers and a greater destiny than she could ever imagine.  I was thoroughly prepared to devour a fast-paced adventure and ready for the "great twists" and "thrilling action sequences" promised by Kirkus Reviews....but instead I ended up on a leisurely stroll.  A very. leisurely. stroll.  It was nice.  Great world. Compelling characters.  But following Zoe around the city and getting to know different people was not as exciting as I had hoped. Eventually, some twists and action came, but it all happened so quickly (and then was over) that I was left thinking:  Hold up. Was that it?!  Then the story went straight back to a slow mosey.  If that weren't enough, I also didn't feel much chemistry between the two romantic leads, which was uber disappointing and kind of the last nail in the coffin.

Ultimately, though I loved the world that Shinn created, I wasn't as swept away by the story as I would have liked and have no plans to continue reading the series myself.  With that in mind, I'd only recommend this book to those who love a good world but don't mind a very very slow burn.

My Rating: 2.75 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  No swearing or sex that I can remember.  Minimal violence.  There is a passing mention of a same-sex partnership and anoter (lesser) character's preference for young girls.

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