Mystic and Rider
I bought [the hardcover release of] Mystic and Rider almost a year ago, yet it sat on my bedside table until last week. I’m a big fan of Sharon Shinn’s writing, but I just kept picking this one up, reading a page or two and then putting it down. I think it was the cover – on it is depicted a warty-fingered woman in a nappy-looking fur cape and some hard used leather. It just did not appeal. Fortunately, what’s between this book’s covers is better than what is on the front one. This is the first book in Shinn’s new Twelve Houses series, and it’s a very good introduction to an intriguing new land on the brink of war.
Gillengaria is experiencing enough unrest for King Baryn to send out a scouting party. This party consists of both mystics and Riders (thus, the book’s title). Senneth, a female mystic with power over fire, leads the group into the hostile southern territories in order to determine if the rumors of treason against the king and persecution of mystics have basis in truth. Kirra, a healer and shapeshifter, and Donnal, another shapeshifter, are along to offer assistance, and Tayse and Justin, King’s Riders, are there to offer protection and legitimacy to the enterprise.
The group’s journey into southern Gillengaria quickly becomes one frightening incident after another, and the disparate members of this group, who don’t like or trust each other in the beginning, must learn to rely on each other to survive. As they travel they are confronted with proof of atrocities being committed against mystics, rising religious fanaticism, and assembled bodies of troops. At the same time they hear rumors about King Baryn and his new wife that raise questions to which they have no answers. Senneth and the others are loyal servants of their king, but in the course of their journey each of them has to confront their own prejudices and decide what exactly they are willing to defend with their lives.
Mystic and Rider is a true adventure story and, to a lesser extent, a road romance. While Shinn introduces numerous conflicts within Gillengaria, the defining conflict of this novel is less obvious. Senneth, Kirra, Donnal, and Cammon, a mystic they befriend on the road, deal daily with the distrust of the King’s Riders, Tayse and Justin, who fear that mystics are corrupt and too powerful. And it’s a good thing that these four mystics are also people of integrity because that distrust is fairly ingrained within this society. When a mystic’s power is discovered he or she is frequently disowned or persecuted. But as they venture deeper into anti-mystic territory, Tayse and Justin see firsthand how decent mystics can be and how monstrous regular folks often are. The metaphor here is a little obvious – insert your favorite persecuted minority for comparison – and the fact that all of the mystics represented are good and righteous people makes the book teeter a bit on the moralistic side, but there is still a good deal of enjoyable vicarious championing of the underdog to be had here. Most readers will like seeing bigoted fanatics get theirs at the hands of our talented miscellany.
And they are talented. Especially Senneth. She has got a cool magic power, that girl. She can make fire, tame fire, control fire, set things on fire. Living or dead, she can make it burn. This is a prodigious talent – both protective and practical. It’s hard to imagine a situation she would be at a disadvantage in. Yet, she remains ethical and devoted to protecting other mystics.
Her foil in this adventure is Tayse. He is rock solid, stone to her fire. A lifelong warrior, trained in every type of fighting and defense, he is very leery of her to begin with. His utter loyalty to his king demands that he protect her, but as he comes to know her, he takes his mission personally. Tayse is interesting as a romantic choice for Senneth. Their relationship works, partly because he is so stalwart and supportive. Like stone contains fire, his personality helps Senneth control and contain her engulfing power. But also like stone, he is somewhat inscrutable and slightly dull. Despite this, Shinn still manages to pull some touching emotions from him.
What’s most enjoyable here is Shinn’s world building. She does a wonderful job differentiating the characteristics of the various Twelve Houses of Gillengaria, and detailing the chaos that is rising out of the southern houses. The book lagged a bit at the end when the journey was over, but when I’d finished Mystic and Rider, I immediately went and ordered the next book in the series, The Thirteenth House, in hardcover. And if that’s not an endorsement of this latest effort of Shinn’s, I don’t know what is.
|Review Date:||February 17, 2006|