Recent Reading: Whispering Wood by Sharon Shinn

So, you know Whispering Wood is the fifth Elemental Blessings book, right?

The other four are, in order: Troubled Waters, Royal Airs, Jeweled Fire, and Unquiet Land, and before this my favorite was the first, which I fell in love with instantly the first time I read it because it is so warm and cozy. Now I’m not totally sure Troubled Waters is my favorite. Whispering Wood is sure right up there for me.

Whispering Wood isn’t quite as cozy. Or, you know what, maybe it is. I can’t exactly remember whether various plot elements took me by surprise in Troubled Waters; I just remember the sense that of course everything would work out. Naturally it’s obvious that everything will work out in this one too, but I can definitely report that, although in the broadest sense the plot is predictable, lots of details of the plot took me by surprise. This was fun, particularly because everything was beautifully foreshadowed, so it was delightful to watch the pieces click into place. I even noticed certain foreshadowing elements – Ah ha! I would say to myself. I bet that detail turns up again! Then I’d forget about it until yep, there it was. I enjoyed that a lot.

Also, I’ve been meaning to write a post eventually about books that do certain things very well – I mean, like pointing to Faking It by Jennifer Cruisie for a great crowd scene. Well, Whispering Wood offers a particularly elegant use of flashbacks. Now and then, not too often, there’s a short chapter that starts Valentina is eight or Valentina is fourteen, and these flashback chapters (a) lend depth to the character; (b) lend depth to the relationship between Valentina and Sebastien; and (c) lead into a lovely little epilogue. I can’t think of another example of flashbacks being used quite this way, or quite this elegantly. It’s suddenly a technique I’m filing under “would be neat to try someday.” Also, these flashbacks are written in present tense, while the present-day story is written in past tense. This is one element of craft you don’t see that often and it works beautifully here.

Oh! You know what else! I really liked a certain element of the plot. Everybody’s being heroic and doing their best and all these minor characters would be great as protagonists. This element would make a great central plot. I’m thinking of stealing parts of it and recasting those parts in a way that would fit an Invictus sequel. I need to make notes about how to maybe do that.

Meanwhile, back to Whispering Wood!

Valentina is Darien’s much younger sister. Like him, she’s hunti – you may remember that hunti is the wood/bone elemental power. Its characteristics are steadfastness, loyalty, certainty, resolve, traits like that. Let me see, it goes like this:

Hunti – steadfastness, loyalty, certainty, resolve; also orderliness and stability. Those last two aren’t official, but that’s how hunti characters are written.

Sweela – imagination, love, charm, creativity; also impulsivity and wildness. Again, those last two aren’t official, but that’s what sweela characters are like.

Elay – joy, hope, vision, grace; also distraction, removal from human concerns.

Coru – flexibility, change, resilience; also unpredictability and untameabilty.

Torz – serenity, patience, endurance, contentment; also nurturance and calmness.

Those are partial lists of the official qualities plus my perception of how the characters are written. Although these are all fine – it’s a hallmark of this system that all characteristics are positive and all blessings are, you know, blessings – because of the impulsivity of sweela and the airheadedness of Elay and the instability of Coru, I feel like if I stepped into this world, I’d be hunti or torz. So, what I mean is, I was really prepared to love Valentina. And I did. I liked her a lot. She’s somebody I could believe in; the choices she made all the way through were believable; and I liked the way she interacted with Corene and Taro and others, including Darien. Tough relationship there, but I liked the way it worked out. Even though, as I say, the broad strokes of the plot are predictable, I’m chuckling as I type this because so many of the details really did take me by surprise. All of them in a good way. The ending was, again, predictable in the broadest possible sense, but delightful, perfect, and even surprising in the details. I’m already looking forward to re-reading this one; it’s the kind of story I’ll love at least as much as I anticipate certain plot points I know are coming up.

There is also a lot of really nice writing in this book. I especially found the description of Valentina’s experience of grief when her mother dies – this is in a flashback – superb. Really moving. The event is both long expected and absolutely catastrophic. Val had thought she was prepared for grief, but she finds that the expectation of loss and the reality of loss are such different experiences that they bear absolutely no resemblance to one another. The experience is so well drawn, and we also see some important roots of Valentina’s estrangement from her brother here.

I’m trying not to say too much about the plot, or actually anything much about the plot, so I’ll stop there. I’ll just wind up by reiterating that this is maybe my second-favorite book in this series, maybe even my favorite. I loved it and I’m really glad Sharon wrote it and if you like this series at all, you must pick up Whispering Wood immediately. If you’ve already read it, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

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1 thought on “Recent Reading: Whispering Wood by Sharon Shinn”

  1. The ebook doesn’t release until the 14th, so I am waiting impatiently! I pre-ordered it when you first mentioned it, sometime back in the summer, and it turns out that it releases on the same day as the next Murderbot, so I have been seriously debating which comes first. Answer: clearing my schedule so that I can do nothing but read on the 14th. So looking forward to it!

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