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Monday, October 15, 2007

Three by Sharon Shinn

Sharon Shinn is a writer of fantastic literature, who always has an element of romance (in the sense of a man and woman falling in love) in her novels. Although she has never won the highest awards given in the field, she's good enough to enjoy. Let's put it this way -- my wife, who almost never likes fantastic literature, has enjoyed one of Shinn's books, Summers at Castle Auburn. She also enjoyed, as I did, a trio of so-called Young Adult books by Shinn. These books are The Truth-Teller's Tale (2005), The Safe-Keeper's Secret (2004) and The Dream-Maker's Magic (2006). There is a fourth story, "Wintermoon Wish," with the same premises and setting. That story is in the anthology Firebirds Rising.

As usual, I won't give away the plot, but I will muse briefly about some of the aspects of these books.

All three involve young teenagers growing up. These are more female than male, but male characters are important. One of the books features twin girls, and one has a main character whose mother treats her as if she were a boy -- she isn't. (Shinn's story explains the reasons.)

The world of these books has magic in it. In particular, there are Safe-Keepers, Truth-Tellers, and Dream-Makers. Safe-Keepers are safe listeners for secrets. They don't tell even the most awful things, unless telling would be all right with the originator of the secret, or that person has died. They may pass secrets on to other Safe-Keepers, especially if they are afraid that they will die soon.

Truth-Tellers, on the contrary, always tell the truth, and this includes things that they don't have personal knowledge of. For example, you could ask a Truth-Teller who committed a crime, and he or she would usually respond by naming the guilty party. Truth-Tellers, of course, aren't always popular. Like Safe-Keepers, there may be more than one such person in the kingdom at once. Both Truth-Tellers and Safe-Keepers gradually come to realize their specialness, and those around them do, too, as they grow up.

One of Shinn's nice touches is inventing a tree that goes with each of these. Kirrenberry trees are for Safe-Keepers. They make no noise. Their leaves don't rustle, and, if you make a whistle out of a twig from such a tree, it won't make any music. Chatterleaf trees are noisy, and they are often planted at the homes of Truth-Tellers. Their leaves, of course, are noisy.

There is only one Dream-Maker in the kingdom at a time, and Dream-Making is difficult. Only people who have endured great suffering become Dream-Makers, and being Dream-Maker is an emotional burden. Their special gift is to make some people's wishes come true. They don't control this. Wishes of people who have told the Dream-Maker what their wish is may come true. If so, it is some time after the contact with the Dream-Maker.

The three books, as I say, all take place in the same setting. They are also related, in that characters from one book may be mentioned a little in another one, but the books may be read independently.

There is little or no religion in the books, except for rituals associated with mid-winter and mid-summer. However, both my wife and I were struck by the fact that Jesus Christ is Truth-Teller, Safe-Keeper, and Dream-Maker. Sometimes the Truth that He tells is uncomfortable and unwelcome. We can confess anything we have done to Him without fear. He makes some of our dreams come true.

Thanks for reading.

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