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Monday, June 18, 2007

The Thirteenth House by Sharon Shinn

In The Thirteenth House, Sharon Shinn continues the series she began with Mystic and Rider. (I posted on that book quite a while ago, and also have a post on Shinn more generally.)

As I indicated in the earlier post, I like the setting of this series better than her first series, the Angel, or Samarra, books. There is no patina of science behind the fantasy, as there is in the Angel books.

This second work uses the same characters as the first, in large part, which is also a plus. These are Donnal, Cammon, Tayse, Justin, Kirra Danalustrous, and Senneth Brasenthwait.

Shinn generally has some moral dilemmas in her work. There are two serious moral dilemmas in this novel. One of them is unresolved. It may be resolved in a later work. That is the question of changing a human into an animal, and back. Some Mystics can do this. There is, apparently, a religious prohibition against doing so, except to yourself. But it turns out that a deadly disease can be cured in animals, but not in humans, so Kirra decides (with advice from others, both Mystics and non-Mystics) that she should do this. If there is a prohibition against doing so, shouldn't something happen? Nothing seems to, at least in this book.

The second doesn't need a fantasy novel, unfortunately, although the resolution is fantastic. The main character, Kirra falls in love with, and has an affair with, a married man, knowing full well that this is dangerous. Finally, she ends the affair. In the process, she cures infertility in the wife of her lover (the wife doesn't know that her husband has been having an affair with Kirra). This is not easy for Kirra to do, but she does it.

Kirra also does something even more redeeming. She doesn't want to, and thinks that doing so will almost be emotional suicide, but she manipulates the memory of her former lover so that he will forget the affair.

Although she shouldn't have gotten into this in the first place, this sort of closing, possible only in fantastic literature, is a particularly appropriate way, it seems to me, to terminate an adulterous affair.

I look forward to the next books in this series. There are some questions to resolve. Who will Cammon and Justin fall in love with? What special powers, if any, do the queen and the princess have? Will there be a war? There are probably other questions, and other adventures, to come.

Thanks for reading.


Tap said...

I haven't read this book, although I think I did read Mystic and Rider several years ago.

You are very impersonal when you mention turning humans into animals, referring only to the religion of the world Shinn has made up. I wonder what you think about this.

However, what I really wanted to object to was the ending of the affair being "particularly appropriate" and "redeeming." It does not eliminate consequences and at the same time seems to steal opportunities for forgiveness from the man whose memory she changed. Firstly, there is the possibility of children, although I suspect as usual in books, especially of this type, that there won't be any. What would the wife or husband or relatives think upon encountering someone who visibly resembles one of them?

Also, it denies the husband the opportunity for reconciliation with his wife. You do not mention whether he may have first repented and agreed to have his memory erased; the lack of such a thing means that the seeds that led to adultery in the first place are probably still there in him, unacknowledged.

You also do not mention what the wife knew. I would think it would be difficult to turn someone into an animal and cure a disease, as you imply happened, without the person in question noticing.

In short, I don't think this resolution is redeeming at all, at least in the matter of adultery. (Whether healing is a change in the way Kirra previously used her powers is another question.) It is like pulling up weeds and leaving the roots in place to regrow; it doesn't really solve anything, only buries it to come back at another time.


Martin LaBar said...

In this world of Shinn, if a human is turned into an animal, they know it, and, if I recall the book correctly, must consent to it. I'm not sure whether it would be OK to do that in our world or not. If it would cure a disease, perhaps so. In any case, we can't do it.

I didn't mean to condone adultery, even in fictional characters, and I guess you are right, in that the husband should have been given the opportunity to seek forgiveness himself. "Redeemed" is too strong a word.

Thanks for the admonition.