- Title: Troubled Waters
- Author: Sharon Shinn
- Series: Elemental Blessings #1
- Genre: fantasy
- Format: Paperback
- Source: Own
- Reviewed by: Olga
- Rating: 5 out of 5
Description: 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.
Review: I love Sharon Shinn. She has done it again. She created a new world, a new highway to multiple sagas, and a new unforgettable heroine.
Numb with grief, Zoe just lost her father, a former adviser to royalty, banished from court ten years ago. When a young nobleman Darien arrives in Zoe’s village to take her back to the capital, the girl doesn’t resist, even when she learns that she is to become the fifth bride of the king.
At first, she seems passive and docile, an unlikely protagonist. She follows Darien without demur, until a mischance on the road leaves her out of his supervision for a moment and the door of the carriage open. Without any prior thoughts of rebellion, Zoe steps out of the carriage and disappears into the throng of the capital. Suddenly, she realizes that she doesn’t want to become the fifth wife of the old king.
But what does she want? Zoe doesn’t know. She only knows that she is coru, a child of water. In the world where everyone’s personality is affiliated with one element—water, fire, earth, air, or wood—Zoe explores her options as she follows the river: from the poor squatters’ camp on the river shore to her ancestral home by the river’s headwaters, to the king’s palace beside the waterfalls. Her final revelation, that she is coru prime and her mind can command the capricious river, turns her life and the fate of the kingdom upside down.
As she gropes for answers, the story pulls the reader in. Tension escalates, while the author’s new world unfolds in all its magnitude and controversy. Populated by all kinds of people—poor and rich, wicked and kind—it seems a kin to our own world, even to the small and quirky detail that everyone, men and women alike, wear pants.
Some reviewers mentioned that not much is happening in the first half of the book, and that’s true… on the surface. The action transpires much deeper, inside Zoe’s mind and soul. For most of her life, she had existed invisibly, hidden from the world and from herself under her father’s shadow. He was an extraordinary man while he lived, and only now, after his death, Zoe is beginning to discover who she is besides her father’s daughter. The process of her awakening takes time, for Zoe as well as for the readers, and Shinn’s trademark low-key, lyrical narration fits the storyline perfectly.
The novel’s magical system is complex and unique, enclosed and limited, unlike any other magical system in any other writer’s universe. An adept storyteller, Shinn weaves her heroes’ characters with the same mastery as she builds her world. Every detail is important. Every nuance serves a purpose, like a colored thread in a tapestry.
As a result, Zoe comes out three-dimensional and contradictory, like a neighborhood girl. One moment, she is strong and compassionate, ready to risk her life to help a friend. Another moment she is spiteful and naive, destroying the city to save one little princess. All the while she grapples with questions only she herself can answer. Can she use her powers wisely? Can she refrain from abusing it? Can she distinguish where wisdom ends and abuse begins? Can she find her heart in the deep, troubled waters of Sharon Shinn’s imagination?
I look forward to the next book of the series. Hopefully soon.