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Mystic And Rider by Sharon Shinn
Review by Sam Lubell
Ace Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0441012469
Date: 30 March, 2005 List Price $23.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

On one level Mystic And Rider by Sharon Shinn is far more typical fantasy than most of her books. There?s the magic wielders, here called mystics although there is little of the otherworldly element the term mystic usually implies. There?s a medieval-type kingdom with an aged king, an uncertain succession and squabbling nobility scheming for power. There are the specially trained and loyal Riders who serve the king. And there?s a religious order out to kill all the mystics. But on another level, this is Sharon Shinn?s most successful book.

What makes it work is not the plot, which is basically the story of how a mix of mystics and Riders learn to trust each other ?and even find love?while on a mission exploring the kingdom for signs of discontent. It?s not the setting, which is your standard fantasy medieval kingdom (new-style, meaning that there are female warriors, spies etc.). And it is certainly not the generic title, a strange failing from the creator of such coinage as, The Alleluia Files, Wrapt In Crystal, and even Jenna Starborn. What makes this book special are the characters. In your typical fantasy, the reader is lucky to find more than two characters who are truly three-dimensional. Here, all the characters on the quest have their own personalities, their own secrets, their own motivations, and their own quirks. And their own loyalties ? Tayse, the head of the Riders does not trust the mystics because they are an independent force, not necessarily loyal to the king. But Senneth, the mystic, who is head of the expedition has her own worries about the Riders? unquestioned obedience to the king, even if he is wrong.

The story opens with the group already on their mission, when they stop to rescue a young mystic from slavery. He joins the band, providing the author with a convenient excuse to explain the rather complicated political structure of the Twelve Houses, the political aristocracy, as well as introduce the characters. Then it turns out that one of the mystic adventurers is the daughter of the head of one of the most important houses, so she is able to talk to the political leaders and gain intelligence that way. Two of the mystics are shape-shifters, which comes in handy for battle and spying, and Senneth can control fire. And, of course the Riders are near-supernatural fighters. At times, the book almost reads like a medieval version of the X-Men comic book with anti-mystic feelings and enemies who use this prejudice.

As the group journeys they probe the intentions of the leaders of the various noble Houses. They learn that the masterminds of the plot are a brother and sister who are respectively the head of one of the Houses and the head of a religious order, both of whom see it as their mission, or at least their path to power, to rid the world of mystics. And the head of House Gisseltess has a connection to Senneth, who proves to have a major secret to her own identity.

In her last couple of books, Sharon Shinn allowed the romantic elements to dominate at the expensive of the fantastic. Here though the romance evolves out of a growing trust between the Rider Tayse and the mystic Senneth, which evolves slowly and only turns into a romance near the end of the book.

Although the book does not need a sequel, as the adventurers complete their task and go there separate ways at the end, the cover of Mystic And Rider says it is ?A Novel of the Twelve Houses? suggesting further adventures in this world. I for one, look forward to many more such journeys, if they continue this high level of characterization and charter interaction. This book is highly recommended, especially for those who like traditional fantasy. Even readers who have tried Sharon Shinn before and found her books lacking in genre elements, will be highly pleased with Mystic And Rider.

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