The Thirteenth House
by Sharon Shinn
Review by Sam Lubell
Ace Hardcover Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0441013686
Date: 07 March, 2006 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
While there is a younger queen and a daughter just reaching 18, Queen Valrihas has a mysterious secret background (that Shinn has yet to explain) and Princess Amalie has been largely kept away from the social circuit so both are an uncertain quantity in the kingdom. Consequently, the king has appointed a regent, Lord Romar. The Thirteenth House opens with a plot by kingdom's lesser nobles to exploit these tensions to gain more land and power for themselves by kidnapping the regent. Kirra and a group of riders rescue the regent to whom Kierra finds herself attracted, even though he is married.
She returns home, where she is replaced as heir to Danalustrous, one of the 12 houses, by her younger half-sister Casserah, much to her own relief. But Casserah refuses to go on the social circuit so their father suggests that Kirra shape change into Casserah's shape and go in her place. Kirra does so and soon winds up with her companions from the first book, protecting the queen and princess as they travel from one social engagement to the other. She again encounters Lord Romar and rescues him from another attack. Soon the two have an affair, causing some of the companions to lose their respect for Kirra and her long-time friend and fellow shape changer Donnel, asking them to leave. In the process Kirra learns how to shape change others and use her healing powers to remove memories and emotions. Ultimately, Kirra is put in a position where she has to choose between doing nothing and acquiring Lord Romar for her own or taking action to save the life of her lover's wife.
Shinn is a strong literary writer who can make a book of traveling from ball to ball work as an interesting novel. She is especially good at writing realistic characters. While Mystic and Rider was an ensemble piece, The Thirteenth House is all Kirra's story and the book itself is a personality study. Even Senneth, who was a very strong character in the first book is very much a supporting player here and the riders are pretty much interchangeable stock figures. Fortunately, Kirra herself is a great character, fun-loving, restless and flirtatious, yet with a core of steel. Kirra has a very different temperament from her more serious sister, so seeing her try to play the role of Casserah provides insights on her own character. It is especially humorous when others in the book talk to Kirra-as-Casserah about Kirra. Even the romance with a married man fits Kirra's character as one who flirts with danger (in this case literally) and ignores society's rules and conventions. One has to wonder, however, whether having Kirra commit adultery throughout the book weakens her likability and status as a heroine.
While the romance plot is completely resolved in the book, although its outcome will hopefully affect Kirra's behavior in the future, the political turmoil remains. This plot from the lesser lords is uncovered but there is still the threat from the greater nobility. Hopefully, Shinn will place this in the foreground in a future book.
Readers who enjoy romance and strong characterization will enjoy this book and The Twelve Houses series. This series is a great way to introduce romance and mainstream readers to fantasy. But those who like action, adventure, and complex systems of magic would do well to look elsewhere.