This is the fourth in the Elemental Blessings novels by Shinn. The world she has developed here has lots of interesting factors, the best is going to a temple to pull three random tokens which are “the elemental blessings” i.e.; Honor, courage, fertility, creativity and so on. The days of the month have their own nomenclature as do the months and seasons. So all this takes some time getting used to (unless you’ve read all these novels one after another.)
This tale begins with Leah Frothen returning to the land of Welce from having been in Malinqua for the last five years as a merchant. She leaves behind Chandran someone whom she worked with closely and has strong feelings for, but neither of them has voiced them, though they write letters to each other constantly.
Among other things, she wants to reunite with her daughter Mally who she gave to relatives to raise as Leah was not convinced she had the skill to be a mother, her life was unsettled, as was her relationship with Mally’s father.
So Leah is back in Welce, not only to reconnect with Mally, but to once again help the regent Darien Serlast. He needs her to spy on a very unsavory royal delegation from Karkan who are seeking trade agreements with Welce.
The beginning of this novel was sort of an endless parade of reuniting, reconnecting with relatives and the major players in Darien’s court which are the Five Primes: Elay (Air/soul); Hunti (wood/bone), Sweela (fire mind),Coru (water/blood) and Torz (earth/flesh). These primes can utterly control their elements and are what give Welce its power and spiritual center.
It was a very slow start for me. We were constantly being told about who was connected to whom, what they had been doing and how Leah set up a retail business (which Prince Darien is funding) that sold unusual commodities. Not much actually happens, save a robbery which kind of comes out of nowhere and doesn’t really lead to much further on. This would be in the first 100 pages or so.
But once everything is set up, the story takes off at a brisk trot, nothing too wild, but with lots of interesting stories. For Leah, besides getting to know her daughter better, she gets a surprise visit from Chandran who has decided to come to Welce. He becomes a very valuable player because it turns out that in his past he was married to a high-ranking Karkan, who died. So his personal information regarding the distasteful hedonistic Karkan becomes very valuable to Darien in his negotiations.
Chandran and Leah both have kept the events of their past lives close to their vests and when this story begins both know very little about the other. Throughout the novel, there is the slow unraveling of their reticence in sharing who they are. This is the romantic heart of the novel.
Leah gets to meet the Karkan prince and his delegation when they arrange a visit to her shop. She finds the prince loathsome and creepy but makes an unexpectedly strong connection with Seka Mardis, one of the prince’s sycophants who feels she and Leah are soulmates. Events ratchet up as mysterious and heinous deaths are occurring in the city and they lead back to the Karkans and their perverse pleasures.
Finally, the Karkans, impatient with Darien dragging his heels take decisive action and all hell breaks loose in the last 90 pages of the novel.
I love Sharon Shinn; I’ve read most of her novels. Entertaining as the story was, this one took a lot of time to get up to speed and only got up to a fast walk until the final pages. ~~ Sue Martin