I haven’t read a Sharon Shinn novel recently so I picked up Troubled Waters when I was in the mood for some fantasy. I have fond memories of the author’s Samaria books, which is an excellent series about angels. I also remember enjoying the Twelve Houses series although I’m a bit fuzzy on the details since it’s been years since I read them. From what I’ve heard, Troubled Waters is the first in a series but was initially written as a standalone. I liked knowing that I could read Troubled Waters by itself and that I didn’t have to worry about committing to a whole series.
Here’s the summary from Goodreads:
Zoe Ardelay receives astonishing and unwelcome news: she has been chosen to become the king’s fifth wife. Forced to go to the royal city, she manages to slip away and hide on the shores of the mighty river.
It’s there that Zoe realizes she is a coru prime ruled by the elemental sign of water. She must return to the palace, not as an unwilling bride for the king, but a woman with power in her own right. But as Zoe unlocks more of the mysteries of her blood—and the secrets of the royal family — she must decide how to use her great power to rise above the deceptions and intrigue of the royal court.
At the start of the novel, Zoe is grieving and mourning the loss of her beloved father. He was a powerful man at court but was exiled by the king for reasons that aren’t really clear to Zoe. They lived simply in a remote village far from the city. Numb with grief, Zoe isn’t even surprised when the king’s right-hand man shows up at their village to whisk her away to the capital, saying that she’s meant to be the king’s fifth wife. At that point, Zoe doesn’t really care what happens with her future but eventually, the numbness wears off and she realizes that she has no intention of being forced to marry someone she doesn’t know. I found Troubled Waters an absorbing read mostly because I liked Zoe as a character. It was very easy to get into her story and read about her adventures – living with the squatters near the river, working as a shopgirl and slowly discovering her powers. I also knew right away that there would be a romance. It was subtly done but I noticed how carefully Zoe kept paying attention to this guy. It’s a really good slow burn romance that’s drawn out throughout the length of the whole book. I enjoyed the conversations (mostly arguments) between these two characters and looked forward to their moments together.
I liked the world presented by Troubled Waters, where everyone receives random blessings a few hours after they’re born. Supplicants can also enter temples and draw out blessings whenever they feel like they need guidance. These blessings are based on the elements (air, water, fire, wood and earth). Everyone’s personality and way of life is tied to these elements. Zoe is coru, a woman of blood and water, which she inherits from her mother’s side of the family. As a result, she adapts easily to changes and surprises in her life. But she also gets sweela, which is fire, from her father. I don’t think I’m explaining it well but I found these blessings and elemental characteristics charming. I found Troubled Waters to be a quiet kind of fantasy. Kind of like a smooth and steady ride instead of wild and bumpy. Reading this book was a pleasant experience, it’s the type of book that I enjoy curling up with on a lazy weekend or to help me unwind after a work day. I can sense that Troubled Waters isn’t the kind of book that everyone will enjoy but I have a feeling most epic fantasy readers will probable have fun reading it. Troubled Waters reminded me a bit of my reading experience of House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier, not because of any similarities in worldbuilding or characters but just in the sense that I found both of them satisfying reads but couldn’t quite pinpoint why they worked for me. All I can say is that Sharon Shinn is a good storyteller and I enjoy reading her books. A minor quibble that I have with Troubled Waters is that I think the ending should have been extended a bit, it would have been nice to have an epilogue in there. But that’s not a major issue and I enjoyed reading the book overall. I might be tempted to read another Sharon Shinn novel soon.