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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Mystic and Rider by Sharon Shinn

Sharon Shinn has not often been proclaimed as one of the greatest writers of fantastic literature in English. Nonetheless, I enjoy reading her novels. They almost always involve romance. (In the sense of a man and a woman gradually finding that they love each other.)

I first found Shinn's work in a bookstore, by accident, if there are such. (In The Silver Chair, C. S. Lewis said that there weren't any.) The title was Archangel (1997), which intrigued me. I suppose that Shinn is best known for the series of novels with the same setting -- a future world of humans, who have fled from Earth, and live on another planet, which vaguely resembles the Middle East in several features. Shinn's work often involves religion, in some form. She was asked about that in an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 2, 2006. Her response was that she is not an adherent of any faith, but is "still looking." She also said that "For me, to a certain extent, religion is part of the world building, because so many societies are defined by their religion." She's certainly right about that, and some fantastic fiction is poorer because that fact has been ignored by its authors.

I think I'm going to like the world of Mystic and Rider (New York: Ace, 2005) better than the world of Archangel. It seems more believable than the world of Archangel, which included a giant spaceship, circling and protecting the world, without the inhabitants understanding its nature -- that didn't ring quite true, although it was an interesting device. I know I'm going to like the characters. Much of the book is about the adventures of the heroine, a mystic (with some magical powers) and those traveling with her, who include humans, some mystic and some not, and a large dangerous animal. The development of understanding between the characters took some good work on Shinn's part. Their interactions, trust and mistrust, settling into roles, are believable. I like that in a book.

Religion comes up in this book, too:
There are converts up in the northern parts, too, but they only get a handful of applicants. My father has supported one for years, because he says that all people need some form of faith in their lives, even if it's something they choose not to follow. Just to know it's there. Just to know there's a power somewhere stronger than you and willing to knock you down if you don't behave. Sharon Shinn, Mystic and Rider. (p. 47)

I'm looking forward to at least one sequel, with the further adventures of at least some of the same characters.

Thanks for reading.

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Added April 10, 2007. Shinn has a short story, "When Winter Comes," in The Queen in Winter (New York: Berkeley, 2006) that is based on this book. She has developed one incident in Mystic and Rider into a fine story, and I suspect that at least one of the characters, Kinnon, a baby with mystical powers (but otherwise, a baby) will show up in another book in this series, a little older. She has, as usual, some nice sentences, such as these, which begin the story:
People always say they're willing to die for the ones they love, as if nothing else they could do would be so hard. But it is harder to keep living for someone else, doing everything in your power to keep that person safe and breathing. I know. (p. 85)

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