Okay, now I’ve listened to the first two books of the new Echoes trilogy, and I really liked them both. I’ll probably listen to the third this coming weekend, as I am most likely looking at a whole lot of driving, sigh.
This is making me want to go on a Sharon Shinn Reading Binge, though in fact I’m kinda trying to press ahead with my own current WIP, so who knows whether that will happen.
You know, when I think about it, Sharon Shinn certainly has enough books out to produce a real binge effect. Let me see … just about thirty books, most of which I have here on my shelves. That doesn’t include the Echoes trilogy. Thirty-two altogether, when I use Wikipedia to count them. Most of them I have in paper, six in audiobook format, and it turns out I’m missing two.
A few I’ve only read once or twice, others many times. Let me see if I can lay them all out in order, from the ones I constantly tell people they MUST TRY to the ones I don’t try quiiiiiite as hard to press into the hands of every possible reader.
Oh, and I’m going to take apart the series and drop different books into different categories, so let me add that nearly all of Sharon Shinn’s novels work as standalones, even if they are part of a series. She has a really strong tendency to complete all the important plot arcs in one book and then switch pov characters in the next book. There is one exception, but this rule is almost as consistent for her work as the importance of the romance. Every one of her books is a romance-fantasy, except for the few that are romance-science fiction.
Wait! One exception to the “Shinn writes romance” rule. Just one though, I think.
Right at the top:
- The Shape-Changer’s Wife
- The Truth-Teller’s Tale (Safe-Keeper’s series, #2)
Those two are perfect gems. The former, which is a standalone, is one of the most perfect stories I’ve ever read. Just a really lovely fairy-tale style fantasy. If you haven’t read it, you ought to — especially if you love Patricia McKillip. It is also the only one which is not a romance.
The latter is almost as perfect. Now that I’ve thought of it, I really want to re-read it.
In second place:
- The Safe-Keeper’s Secret (Safe-Keeper’s #1)
- “Blood,” a novella set in the world of Heart of Gold, published in the collection Quatrain.
- Fortune and Fate (Twelve Houses #5)
I did mention I was going to take apart the series. Yes, the one that is fifth in its series stands alone. Events have happened and are referred to, but this book is set after the main series and can easily be read in isolation. It is also, as you can see, a particular favorite of mine.
Although all the novellas in Quatrain are fine, “Blood” stands out. It’s the only novella I’m going to list, though all Shinn’s novellas are nice to have as additions to your library. But “Blood” is just wonderful. If you don’t have this collection, pick it up and read that story. (And the rest, of course, once you have the collection.) Also, Shinn did something subtle with the beginnings of the four novellas in this collection which she told me once no one ever noticed. I hereby mention that so that you may pay close attention if you do read these stories.
One step down:
- Archangel (Samaria #1)
- Angel-seeker (Samaria #5)
- Troubled Waters (Elemental Blessings #1)
- Royal Airs (Elemental Blessings #2)
- Heart of Gold
- The Dream-Maker’s Magic (Safe-Keeper’s #3)
- Echo in Onyx (Echoes #1)
- Echo in Emerald (Echoes #2)
A very eclectic assortment in the above category; I know. That is inevitable as the category expands to take in more entries. I can’t really sort these out in terms of my personal preferences; I like them all a lot. Really, a lot, just not quite as much as the ones placed higher.
Although it was written fifth, Angel-Seeker is actually set chronologically right after Archangel. Personally, I prefer to read them one right after the other. Plenty of readers differ, but this is still my preference.
Troubled Waters and Royal Airs belong to the distinctive “comfort read” category for me. They are warm, friendly stories set in a warm, friendly country that is in the middle of a surprisingly warm and friendly industrial revolution. There is tension, but not that much. The pace is slowish; there is a slice-of-life emphasis rather than an emphasis on action and stunning revelations. When I’m caught a cold or I’m in a bad mood, these are some of the books I tend to reach for, so I’ve read them a bunch of times.
The description of Heart of Gold put me off for a long time … I am not keen on “problem novels,” which is what this looked like … but I finally read it because I loved “Blood.” I liked it much more than I expected to and it slotted into this near-the-top category. And, as you can see, the Echoes books are in this category as well.
- Mystic and Rider (Twelve Houses #1)
- The Thirteenth House (Twelve Houses #2)
- Dark Moon Defender (Twelve Houses #3)
- Reader and Raelynx (Twelve Houses #4)
- Jovah’s Angel (Samaria #2)
- The Alleluia Files (Samaria #3)
- Angelica (Samaria #4)
- Jeweled Fire (Elemental Blessings #3)
- Unquiet Land (Elemental Blessings #4)
Yep, the category is another big one. I liked all these books quite a bit and have read all of them several times. These four Twelve Houses books form one story and are the only ones where the individual novels don’t really stand alone because the overall plot arc is so important. However, we still do switch pov characters in every novel.
The fifth book of the Tweleve Kingdoms series, which as you have seen is my favorite, is really rather separate, as the main plot arc of the series is resolved in the fourth book. So this is really a quadrilogy followed by a standalone single book set in the same world, with guest appearances by some familiar characters.
For me, the overall plot arc of the quadrilogy is not as strong as the individual arcs within each novel. Twice — no, three times — maybe four times — someone does something stupid that predictably leads to a hellishly bad situation later. This is not always a pov character; I am specifically thinking of the king and how everyone seems to consider him a good king, for some reason, when all the available evidence is that he is at best well-intentioned but ineffectual, and at worst deeply stupid. The whole plot depends on the king not taking effective action to prevent highly foreseeable disaster. Also, at one point at least, the main characters decline to take decisive action, thus setting the scene for predictable disaster. This is the aspect that largely prevents this quadrilogy from bouncing up to the category above. However, I am really in the mood to re-read the whole quadrilogy now. I will probably start with the fifth book and then go to the first and read the rest in order.
The rest of the Samaria books also appear here, as you see, and I don’t really have preferences among them. I like them all, but not as much as the other two.
Ditto for the second two Elemental Blessings books, which I don’t believe I like quite as well as the first two. Still, when I was mildly ill a few weeks ago, guess which book I reached for? Unquiet Land, which is the most recent and which I had only read once. All four books in the series are so comfortable and warm. I really (really) love Darien, especially as he appears here, as a background character; but I do feel that if Lord Vetinari (say) had been in charge, the overall problem would have been resolved much earlier, with less wear-and-tear on everyone’s nerves, and without the need for a not-quite-deus-ex-machina moment at the end.
- Summers at Castle Auburn, which I definitely read but barely remember. My feeling is that I sort of liked it, but not all that much? I believe I may have felt it read a little younger than most of Shinn’s other books, but I’m not sure. Which makes me want to re-read it and see what I think now.
- Jenna Starborn, which I admired in a literary sense but did not really like. It’s a Jane Eyre retelling, and clever, but (sorry, Sharon!) I have never really been a fan of Jane Eyre.
- Gateway, which was fine, but did not stand out much for me. It’s a portal story where a girl steps through a portal into an alternate world. I only read it once. I should read it again and see what I think now.
- The Shape of Desire (Shifting Circle #1)
- Still Life With Shape Shifter (Shifting Circle #1)
- The Turning Season (Shifting Circle #1)
This shapeshifter series was just not my favorite. Too much deeply felt emotion, I guess. I greatly prefer the more slow-build, lower-key relationships that are featured in basically all of Sharon Shinn’s other novels.
- Shattered Warrior , a graphic novel. I guess I don’t mostly really like the graphic novel style, other than Sandman. The Mercy Thompson graphic novel didn’t work for me either.
The ones I haven’t read:
- Wrapt in Crystal, which turns out to be a Shinn novel I’ve never read. Well, fine then. I have now ordered a used copy from Amazon, as it apparently is out of print and not available as an ebook.
- General Winston’s Daughter, which I also haven’t read. After writing this post, I dropped a copy onto my Kindle, as that one is available in that format.
Other than the above, there are a scattering of other short works, many of which I’ve read and liked, but which don’t stand out for me in the same way that “Blood” does.
Shinn as a gateway drug: if you know someone who likes romances but has not read much fantasy, then especially if this person doesn’t care for modern paranormal, here you go. Sharon Shinn is the single most consistent writer of romance-fantasy I know of and would be a great place to start.
Okay! Weigh in with a comment if you like. How many of these have you read? Anybody out there who has never read much by Sharon Shinn? If you’ve read them all, which did you like the best? If you’ve read the last couple, what did you think of them? Do you agree or disagree with where I placed the various books?