Retro Friday: Mystic and Rider by Sharon Shinn

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

Mystic and Rider is the first book in the Twelve Houses series by Sharon Shinn. I enjoyed reading the Samaria series by the same author and Archangel is one of my favorite books. I think I’ve read more contemporary titles than fantasy this year so I find myself wanting to read more of the latter. I decided it would be a good idea to give this series a try.

Here’s the summary from Sharon Shinn’s website:

The fire mystic Senneth crosses the country of Gillengaria on a mission for the king, trying to discover if noble marlords from the Twelve Houses are planning an uprising. She is accompanied by the soldiers Justin and Tayse, two King’s Riders who are unswervingly loyal to the crown. Also on the journey are the shape-changers Kirra and Donnal, and a young mystic named Cammon who can practically read minds. It’s soon clear that not only are marlords planning a rebellion, but that they are being aided by Daughters of the Pale Mother, a fanatical religious sect that hates mystics. While Senneth can clearly take care of herself, Tayse finds himself unable to stop watching her — determined both to protect her and to uncover her secrets.

And an interesting tidbit from the author: The thing that most people seemed to find disappointing about the Samaria books was that they didn’t follow the same people through successive storylines, so from the outset I planned the Twelve Houses books as a series about six main characters. I gave Senneth my own headaches just so I could share the pain.

I like the idea that the entire series features one group of characters. I’ve actually finished reading the first two books but I’ll review the second one after this. Just like the Samaria books, each of the Twelve Houses books features a romantic couple. I guess it’s pretty obvious from the title Mystic and Rider who those two are. Senneth is a mystic, a person with magical abilities, and she can control fire while Tayse is a King’s Rider, a member of the elite guard dedicated to serving the crown. It’s easy to like both Senneth and Tayse – the former for being a strong female protagonist who has a mysterious past and the latter for his loyalty and willingness to serve and follow his king’s commands. I actually guessed Senneth’s heritage way before it was revealed but I didn’t mind knowing it early.

I liked that the point of view changes from Senneth to Tayse and back again because we get to see how both characters think. I also like that this series deals with the same set of characters. I felt like this first book was an introduction to the six companions – Senneth, Tayse, Justin, Kirra, Donnal and Cammon. I obviously liked the first book well enough to start the second one right away. While I felt that the romance in Mystic and Rider was more quiet and restrained than I’d like, I understood that it reflected the personalities of the two individuals involved. Like a friend on Goodreads mentioned, Senneth and Tayse become the mother and father figure of the group because they’re several years older than the other characters. They’re both older, wiser and more subdued than the rest of the group.

The same goes for the worldbuilding, I felt that this book introduces readers to the world of Gillengaria, where the nobles (and the ruling class) come from Twelve Houses. The companions travel all over the country to gather information for the king. The readers get to know more about the nobles and a possible uprising because of the growing distrust against mystics. Because the books were meant to be read in order, the plot will make you want to read one book right after the other to get more information not just about the characters but about the fate of the kingdom. While I wasn’t blown away by the first book, I think the Twelve Houses series looks promising and I recommend it for fans of epic fantasy looking for a solid series to read.

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