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Reader and Raelynx by Sharon Shinn
Cover Artist: Donato Giancola
Review by Sam Lubell
Ace Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441014699
Date: 06 November 2007 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Reader and Raelynx by Sharon Shinn is the fourth novel in her Twelve Houses series and the best since the first book. The Twelve Houses novels are fantasy-romance hybrids that in previous books stressed the romance elements. While a romance is still key to Reader and Raelynx, there is more action than in the previous books, and Shinn provides answers to some of the mysteries hinted at in earlier volumes.

The basic plot is straight out of countless Hollywood bodyguard movies that one almost expects to hear Whitney Houston crooning in the background. Cammon is a mystic, a magic user, with the power to read minds and emotions and to sense people from great distances. After saving the king from an assassin, he is given the vital task of protecting the princess Amalie. The princess has grown to a marriageable age and Cammon is needed to read the suitors and determine who can be trusted. But as Cammon and Amalie spend more time together, Cammon and Amalie fall in love, despite warnings from his friends and the opposition of Amalie's stepmother. While this complication develops naturally out of the characterization and the pair's unusual upbringings, this is the third time in four books that Shinn has resorted to the device of having a noble lady fall in love with an unsuitable commoner.

Fortunately, the other elements of the book are stronger. Previous books in the series have established that Amalie and her stepmother Queen Valri have secrets hidden in their past. In this book they become revealed. Valri is really from the land of Lirren and has the ability to shield others from detection. She became queen to protect Amalie from those who would discover that the princess is a mystic, with the ability to absorb powers from other mystics. When Cammon discovers this, after Amalie shows the ability to control the raelynx, a dangerous panther-like beast, he realizes that Coralinda Gisseltess, leader of the Daughters of the Pale Mother and one of the enemies of the king, has the same abilities. Then, when a final attack does kill the king, Cammon, Amalie, and the other mystics must join together to defend against an alliance of foreign soldiers and rebels led by the Gisseltess family.

A major flaw of previous books in this series was that the mystics were too powerful. It is hard to imagine a revolt of non-mystic nobles is much of a threat when the king's allies include a shapechanger with the ability to rearrange people's minds. In Reader and Raelynx, Shinn gives the mystics a major weakness, as their powers do not affect people from other countries such as mercenaries hired by the rebels. And the supposedly non-mystic leaders of the revolt are revealed as having secret powers of their own. The combination, plus sheer numbers, makes the final battle much more of a struggle for the loyalist side than would have been predicted based on the earlier books.

Those who have not read the earlier Twelve Houses books will be mostly confused by this one, which resolves the storylines that had been hinted at in those novels. While there is certainly room for Shinn to return to this world, Reader and Raelynx seems like the end of an arc, if not the whole series. And it makes for a very satisfying conclusion. The whole series is highly recommended for romance readers interested in dabbling in fantasy or fantasy readers who do not mind some mingling of the genre boundaries. Even those who tried earlier novels in this series only to find the romance elements too overwhelming should give Reader and Raelynx a try. I do wish, however, that she had given the book a more compelling title.

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