|This is a return to the land of Welce which we were first introduced to in Shinn’s previous novel “Troubled Waters.”
Shin crafts an engrossing story about a princess, Josetta, who establishes a shelter for folks in the slums of Chialto, capital city of Welce where she works every week, balancing the books, serving meals, scrubbing floors. Court life does not enthrall her.
One evening, her younger sister Corene, escaping from man-handling by leaping out of an “elaymotive” (an automobile) finds herself in the unsavory part of town where Josetta works and ducks into a tavern where she is hoping to avoid any more unwanted attention. There she meets a professional gambler who plays a card game called penta for winnings against anyone who’ll sit as his table. Rafe Adova is a kind-hearted soul and can see she is in trouble and offers to keep the riffraff away.
Corene has sent a message to her sister to come get her. When Josetta joins them, Rafe gets a view of their lives as princesses-in-waiting and the formidable regent, Darien Serlast. The two princesses decide to stay put, because Corene’s sprained ankle won’t let her go far and Josetta is certain someone will be on the way to retrieve them in the morning.
Everyone in Welce belongs to clan/line of people who have strong talents/personalities in one area or another: there is Elay (air/soul), Hunti (wood/bone), Sweela (fire/mind), Coru (water/blood) and Torz (earth/flesh). These characteristics determine everyone’s place and abilities in Welce. These five talents are represented by Primes, who are masters of their particular elements.
The best way to find out what “blessings” you have is to go to a temple and have three people pick a token out of a barrel randomly: these three blessings will show you what’s in store for you in the future. There are forty-three blessings and three extraordinary ones: synthesis, triumph, time.
Rafe is unusual and a bit of a cipher. His blessings are “ghost” blessings, tokens that have worn smooth over the years and are rather mysterious. Rafe adds to the mystery in that he knows little of his parents---his mother died when he was ten and he never knew his father. His meeting with the two princesses really brings him a world of trouble and wonder. The regent rewards him handsomely and so Rafe decides to invest it in flying machines made by the eccentric Elay Prime. Rafe loves the machines so much he gives up tavern gambling and volunteers to be a pilot for the experimental aircraft.
Josetta, in the meantime, must meet up with the prince of a neighboring land who is rather arrogant and tells them his land would not have so many princesses-in-waiting. In Berringey, they kill all the claimants for the throne save the heir apparent. Rafe pursues his life as experimental pilot and Josetta her life as a princess. But both are quite drawn to the other.
This is made stronger when one night, near Josetta’s shelter, Rafe is attacked and injured severely by unknown assailants. He recuperates at the shelter where he sees a lot of Josetta.
Both these wonderful characters lead fascinating lives and their growing attraction for the other is constantly threatened by Rafe’s daring piloting and by Josetta’s entanglement in the succession of Welce.---which gets very convoluted.
And to add spice to the tale, there are a few mysteries to be solved. There is lots of action, lots of terrific interaction between the hero and heroine and a wealth of fascinating secondary characters. It ends a bit abruptly with an obvious hook for another novel. But still, for me, a hard-to-put-down engrossing fantasy from one of my favorite current authors. ~~ Sue Martin