Dark Moon Defender is the third book in the Twelve Houses series by Sharon Shinn. Reading order: Mystic and Rider, The Thirteenth House, Dark Moon Defender, Reader and Raelynx, Fortune and Fate. Should the books be read in order? Yes. Also, don’t read any of the synopses of the latter books if you haven’t read the earlier ones. They contain spoilery bits. Even the summary for this book has some spoilers. Dark Moon Defender is all about Justin, Tayse’s fellow Rider. He’s present in the two other novels and finally gets his own story (and romance!) in this one. Justin has been assigned on a spy mission. The king wants concrete proof that Coralinda Gisseltess, head of the convent of devotees of the Pale Mother, is committing violent acts against mystics. Mystics are individuals with magical abilities and Coralinda firmly believes that the Pale Mother, the moon goddess, hates magic. Justin settles down in the town of Neft as a stable-hand. He tries to keep a low profile so as not to attract attention. Without meaning to, he befriends Ellynor, a young novice at the convent. The companions from the earlier books – Cammon, Senneth, Tayse, Kirra and Donnal – drop by to visit Justin from time to time.
I feel like Justin’s novel is different from the rest of the companions’ because he’s a King’s Rider with no magical powers unlike the other mystics in the group. Justin and Tayse are two of the best Riders in the realm. Riders are skilled fighters, devoted to the king. For some reason, I wasn’t as convinced of their incredible fighting skills as I’d like. I realized that it’s mostly because the author tells the reader that they’re excellent fighters instead of showing their prowess through the Riders’ actions. It’s different with the mystics because there are several instances for them to demonstrate their power. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I didn’t like this book as much as I wanted. Also, it’s the first book in the series where the companions spend time apart. Justin is all by himself so the story jumps from his point of view to one of the other characters. The scenes that I liked the most were the ones where they’re all together. This storytelling format reminded me of Sharon Shinn’s Samaria series and Justin’s book, in particular, is similar to Angel-Seeker. Why? There’s forbidden romance in both books and the characters need to sneak around in order to be together.
I did enjoy reading the book as a whole because we get to learn more about other aspects of the world – Ellynor’s heritage and details about the convent when the story shifts to her point of view. It’s funny because even though I had problems with each book in the series so far, the author has managed to make me care enough about the characters to continue reading about them. As such, I feel like this is a series that I can recommend to anyone who’s looking to sink his or her teeth into a fantasy series that’s easy to follow. I’m going to stick with the series until the end. I’m already in the middle of the next book, Reader and Raelynx, and I think it’s more exciting than the other books because it’s marked with climactic events that the previous books have been leading up to.