Friday, April 20, 2007

Dark Moon Defender, by Sharon Shinn

Dark Moon Defender is the third book in the Saga of the Twelve Houses. The second book in the Saga, The Thirteenth House, was such a disappointment to me that I've been anxious for the next installment to redeem the series. After months of waiting for the local library system to get the third book, it finally arrived. Like a chug of hearty soup after taking a swig of milk gone bad, the bad taste left by the last book was washed away and replaced with something truly satisfying. In short, I liked it.

Justin has been sent to spy on the Lumanen Convent, the stronghold of a group of religious fanatics bent on overthrowing the government of Gillengaria and eradicating all those endowed with magical abilities, the mystics. While performing his clandestine duties he falls in love with Ellynor, a convent novice who could only love him in return if she abandoned religious and family bonds. The situation is further complicated when Ellynor is exposed as a mystic and must fight for her life.

Once again, Ms. Shinn successfully weaves deeper themes into the story without allowing them to dominate the story. This episode emphasizes the true self, the essence of who we are regardless of our setting or our position in life. Neither Justin nor Ellynor are living as their heart would lead them - Justin is cloaked in his clandestine role, while Ellynor's path in life has been chosen for her. In spite of the apparent incompatibility of their stations, and even though they both know the other is keeping secrets, they come to trust each other. Each senses who the other is at the core. Their confidence in each other's true character is what allows their relationship to blossom and eventually grow into complete devotion.

It's interesting to me that I liked this book so much. It has so many of the same characteristics I didn't appreciate in the previous book. Like episode two, the main story line is an undercover romance between two people that would be wise to avoid a relationship. Not only that, but the one thing that saved the second book is nearly absent in this one, namely the advancement of the overall saga (well, that's not quite true - there are some potentially significant alliances forged between various groups, but you can only guess at the future importance of those alliances). With so much in common with the previous book you might expect a similar reading experience, yet in this case I really liked the result.

I've been reserving five star ratings for the very best books. Maybe I'm being a bit stingy, but I'm giving Dark Moon Defender four stars.

4 Stars
4 out of 5 Stars4 out of 5 Stars4 out of 5 Stars4 out of 5 Stars4 out of 5 stars

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