Troubled Waters, by Sharon Shinn, is a stand-alone novel by a veteran author. It was just what I wanted: a tightly focused book that built around a clash of ideas and ideals.
The plot is relatively simple: The main character, Zoe Ardelay, begins the book in a grief-stricken haze due to her father's death. She then expands to fill the book as the story sweeps forward and outward from her. As we learn at the very beginning of the book, Zoe's father Nevarr took her into exile and then, after raising her alone and apart from all kin, he died. The king's adviser arrived to bring Zoe back to the capital - ostensibly to become the king's fifth wife and "restore balance" - and Zoe instead walks away and into the world. As Zoe regains knowledge of politics and kinship, she learns that much of what she didn't know could hurt her, and that she, in turn, has the power to hurt or to help others, if she so cares to do it.
Shinn's world-building is rich and colorful, and even the cameo characters are lovingly described. The five elements drive everything, from fate to fortune to the seasons, and are a natural part of everyday conversation. The cheer and charity that Shinn spreads across her works make kindness into a cultural strength rather than a rare treasure. And Shinn's strength of focus in the writing kept what could have been an unwieldy and lumpy plot from getting out of control and losing me as a reader.
Shinn's turns of phrase were intellectually tasty, too. There were points in the book where I would go back and re-read a comment or a description because of the poetry and word-craft involved in that construction. While I can't rank Shinn up with Bujold on the strength of one book, I can certainly say that she soothes the same need. Her romance was understated, and full of strength. There was little swooning, and little agony of doubt. There was self-understanding, admiration, and clash of wills to match the clash of ideals.
In short, this was an excellent book that caught me in just the correct mood for it. I appreciated the lack of Big Bad Evil, or even really scary bad guys. Most of the book was taken up by Zoe's learning and growing processes, and figuring out how the world works. And once she has figured it out, she certainly uses that knowledge. I almost see her as the Thelani Water character out of the Cast in Chaos series - nearly unfeeling, almost amoral - until, suddenly, she's not
Despite the incorrect use of the subjunctive, I think this is my favorite exchange right now:
"If he was alive, I might have abandoned him at this point, tired of one too many betrayals," she said. "But I do not have that luxury now. I must understand him and accept him, or lose even my memories of him. And I am not prepared to do that - not now. Not yet. Perhaps not ever."
"I do not think," Darien said, "you should consider it a weakness if you still love him."-- New-to-me books read in 2011 (as opposed to re-reads) --January
Little Dee vol 2
Little Dee vol 3Unusual Suspects Harvest Moon
The Black Stallion (yes, I know, I should have read it with Black Beauty) Ravens in the Library: Magic in the Bard's Name
, with a pre-finished commentary hereThe Hundred Thousand KingdomsFang Bangers: An Erotic Anthology of Fangs, Claws, Sex and LoveMust Love HellhoundsTruthseekerFebruaryDark and Stormy KnightsTortall and Other LandsRiver Marked
(2/28 - it arrived a day early)March
Questionable Content, vol 1How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf
Magic BitesSkinwalker, A Jane Yellowrock Novel
Running with the PackMagic Burns
"Skyblaze" Adventures in the Liaden Universe #17Kings of the North
Do Not Sniff the Bees, Two Lumps book 6Magic Strikes
Magic BleedsMercy BladeThe Initiate BrotherMayAngelologyCity of PearlAn Artificial NightLate EclipsesJuneAfter Hours: Tales from Ur-BarMagic SlaysGhost Ship
(e-ARC)WarbreakerJulyQuarter ShareHalf ShareFull Share
"Intelligent Design" (short story in the Liaden Universe, published online at Baen)Heroes in Training
Serenity: Better Days
Serenity: Those Left Behind
Serenity: The Shepherd's TaleTiger's Curse
Calamities of Nature, vol 1Troubled Waters-- Books abandoned rather than completed in 2011 --February
Sing the Four Quarters, by Tanya Huff-- Books Still in Progress --These are books that I haven't totally given up on, I've just... put them aside... for now. And gee, look at how many of them are non-fiction!
The Brand Within
If You Don't Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails
Swords and Dark Magic
Wise Man's Fear