Jeweled Fire Shinn

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

As one of our annual New Year’s traditions, last week CJ and I had Chinese food for dinner.  It’s mostly an excuse to take a break from holiday cooking, but it’s also fun to see what our meal predicts for the coming year (about six pounds it will take until March to work off…).  Pictured below are the fates bestowed upon us for 2016.  You’re probably gearing up for the new year, too, maybe hoping a little clarity, prosperity, or luck will come your way (or omnipotent determination?).  For everyone who enjoys the touch of good fortune from a random blessing, we have the books for you.

FORTUNE COOKIES

Last month Sharon Shinn released a third volume in her Elemental Blessings series. Jeweled Fire joins 2011’s Troubled Waters and 2013’s Royal Airs about the nation of Welce, where every citizen feels a kinship to one of the five elements, thanks in part to random blessings drawn by strangers at their birth.  The sweela are drawn to the element of fire, and Jeweled Fire follows the (mostly mis)adventures of wayward Welchin princess Corene, who has run off to foreign parts in search of… well, she’s not sure what, exactly, except that it has to be better than life at home, where she’s surrounded by scheming nobles and political machinations and constant power play.

…And finds herself in another royal court, full of scheming nobles, political machinations, and constant power play.  And, in fine Shinn tradition, a little romance.

Shinn writes the kinds of series I like best.  From her acclaimed Samaria novels (Archangel, etc.), to her Twelve Houses high fantasies (Mystic and Rider, etc.), to the recent urban fantasy Shifting Circle novels (The Turning Season, etc.), Shinn’s series consist of separate standalone stories linked by characters and worldbuilding—not one-long-novel-in-five-parts, although there may be an overarching series plot, as well.  But it’s her worldbuilding that makes Shinn such a standout fantasy series writer.  The worlds are rich, deep, unique, and immediately accessible.  Shinn has said that Elemental Blessings was originally planned as a single book, but it was so obviously destined from its conception to be a classic Shinn five-volume series (we hope and assume!).  Like many of Shinn’s worlds, Welce has a special sort of magic tied to the land within its borders.  Not only do Welchins identify with the elements (the elay relate to air; the coru to water; the hunti to wood; and the torz to earth), but some possess an even stronger connection, sensing and even manipulating the elements around (and sometimes even within) them.

ELEMENTAL BLESSINGS

Corene, endowed with the blessings of courage, intelligence, and imagination, identifies with sweela, or fire—she’s passionate and impulsive, but also compassionate and clever, a combustible combination that frequently lands her in trouble, sometimes just to be noticed.  But when she hops a ship carrying the newly-discovered prince of Malinqua back to his native land (and you’ll have to read Royal Airs to learn how that happened) she’ll need all her blessings and more to navigate the ever more dangerous political waters.  Empress Filomara has not yet named an heir to Malinqua’s throne, and the scrabble for favor is worse than anything Corene knew back in Welce (and that’s saying something!).  Filomara has collected a number of foreign princesses as potential brides for her nephews and grandsons, but she may have ulterior motives here, as well.  And someone is systematically—and violently—eliminating all his or her fellow rivals for the throne.  There are too many suspects, and too many potential victims.  It will take all Corene’s resources to sort out the truth in time to save herself and her new friends.

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