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Dark Moon Defender by Sharon Shinn
Review by Sam Lubell
Ace Hardcover Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0441014305
Date: 03 October, 2006 List Price $23.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Although the third book in a series and containing occasional references to the past adventures, Shinn provides enough information that new readers will understand this novel. Dark Moon Defender opens with Justin, one of the King's Riders assigned to spy on the Lumanen Convent to determine if its head was part of her brother's plot against the King and is sending her men to kill the mystics. While undercover, he rescues Ellynor from a would-be rapist, and the two form a secret friendship. But Ellynor has secrets of her own – powers, including healing, that she insists comes from the goddess of the dark moon. She insists she is not a mystic. And she comes from the more traditional folk from beyond the mountains with strict ideas about challenging unsuitable suitors to duels. So she is reluctant to fall in love, knowing it would be Justin's death sentence.

As always with Shinn's books, characterization is very strong. Justin starts out as a simple character – a single-minded fighter who regards women, with the exception of fellow Riders and mystics, as too much work and who fails to notice when women try to flirt with him. Gradually, he becomes more complex as his duty as a Rider comes into conflict with his growing love for Ellynor. Meanwhile, Ellynor must come to terms with a growing realization about the nature of her abilities and the truth about the convent – especially after its leader tricks her into using her abilities to help track down mystics.

Perhaps for contrast, Shinn includes two other couples. Tayse, the King's Rider from the first book of the series proposes to Senneth, and wins the support of her noble family even though he is a noble (actually, they had long since given up hope that she would marry anyone). And as an example of the way things are supposed to work, the heads of Senneth's house organize an arranged marriage between Senneth's brother and the heir to another house that is quickly and calmly settled, much to the shock of the other characters whose calamitous romantic affairs had filled the three books so far of the series.

One way to judge the fantasy content of a book is to consider whether the same story could have been told without the magic. For Dark Moon Defender, the answer is clearly yes, even more so than the first books in the series. Change Ellynor's healing power into a skill with herbs and her night vision into a tracking skill from her rustic upbringing and the book – with the exception of the climax – could just as easily be a romance or historical. One problem with the way the fantasy elements are downplayed is that the characters – or perhaps the author – ignore the ways their powers can help solve the situation. One character has the power to alter minds and memories – which could be used for making enemies forget their hatred. More than one character can change shapes into other people, so they could transform themselves into members of the opposition and and do embrassing things to discredit them and destroy their support from the other nobles.

Dark Moon Defender seems the weakest of the three books in the series so far, which still makes it a worthy read for people who enjoy romances or who value characterization above action or showy magic. The series is perfectly tailored to lure romance readers into trying fantasy.

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