Sharon Shinn's latest novel, Troubled Waters, opens with funeral of Zoe Ardelay's beloved father. Her grief engulfs the scene, as evidenced both by the lack of immediate action and the rain that subtlety foreshadows Zoe's connection to the element of water. Zoe herself is listless, unwilling to make her own decisions, but Darien Serlast's arrival in town later that day jump starts the plot. The King's most trusted advisor and a powerful man in his own right, Darien sweeps the unprotecting Zoe away to the capital city, where he means for her to become the fifth wife of the King.
After arriving in the capital city, Zoe takes herself, Darien and the reader by surprise by slipping away into the crowd. She finds her way to the almost-utopian homeless community that camps beside the waters of the river. There, she quickly befriends several of her fellow squatters and enjoys a life of freedom from danger, persecution or even poverty, thanks to her mother's inheritance.
This inheritance, and Darien Serlast's interest in her person, hint at a past beyond the relative seclusion and poverty that Zoe lives in at the start of the book. Although the enigmatic protagonist faces few conflicts, the reader becomes invested in the story through Shinn's deft use of foreshadowing and her skill at world building.
While Zoe explores her surroundings and slowly investigates the political intrigues she and her father left behind ten years ago, the reader simultaneously becomes accustomed to mixture of elemental magic and coincidence that serves as the religious and scientific mooring in Shinn's newest world. Each citizen identifies strongly with an element and the three random blessings that were chosen for them at birth. Zoe names herself a coru woman and identifies with the elements of water and blood.
Water, the element of change and adaptability, drives the plot along. The many mysteries shrouding Zoe's past, her heritage, her relationship with Darien and the place that these lovers each fill within the unstable political climate slowly unravel, along with the true force of Zoe's character. Zoe's rash and deeply passionate behavior at the end of the story contrasts greatly with the excessive passivity she expressed at the beginning. Because Zoe was crippled with grief and excessively passive when first introduced, the reader has no comparison for the enigmatic and unpredictably fiery character she later assumes. Although the changes in her personality exemplify the flexibility of her coru spirit, the reader is left slightly dissatisfied by the feasibility of this character change.
Despite any lingering questions about Zoe's character and some touchy subject matter, the book is an engaging, fast-paced read ideal for readers looking for a happy ending.
The author of the Twelve Hours series welcomes readers to a new fantasy world, where the elements rule.
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.