The third in the romance/epic fantasy series the Twelve Houses. This time, the focus is on the King’s Rider Justin and one of the Silver Lady’s Daughters, Ellynor, who is not from Gillengaria. The other familiar characters have also significant roles.
Huge spoilers and sorry for the length!
Tayse sends Justin into the town of Neft. He is supposed to spy on the Lestra Coralinda Gisseltess who is the high priestess of the Silver Lady. She hates and persecuted mystics and is also suspected of plotting against the king. Justin isn’t happy because he’s sent there all alone but he goes grudgingly. Cammon escorts him and Justin declares to him that he isn’t that interested in girls, especially ones who need to be fussed over and protected all the time. Justin gets a job as a stable hand and starts to think about a way to the Lestra’s convent so that he can see what’s going on.
Ellynor is a girl from Lirrenlands who doesn’t know much about the Silver Lady at all. She was sent to the convent by her family’s men as an escort to her cousin Rosurie. Poor Rosurie had fallen in love with the wrong man and tried to elope with him. The man had been from a wrong clan whom Rosurie’s family did not approve at all. They would have gone to war before allowing Rosurie to marry him. Instead, the couple was separated and Ellynor and Rosurie had been sent to a convent in a different culture.
The girls aren’t allowed to leave the convent (except to proselytize but the only time Ellynor does this is near the end of the book and how can you proselytize a goddess you don’t know anything about?), but Ellynor is fortunate and she can go to Neft on her own. In a short time, she manages to get lost and a man attacks her. Justin saves her and they talk for a while. In the end, they both like each other very much and hope that they can see each other again. Intellectually, Ellynor knows that nothing can come out of it because Justin isn’t from Lirrenlands. The men of the Lirrenlands clans don’t allow their women to marry outside the clans. Instead the men will hunt the hapless suitor until he’s killed. Also, Ellynor loves her family; she doesn’t want to leave them or see any of them killed.
Even though the tough swordsman Justin doesn’t like helpless women, he falls for Ellynor after one conversation.
Ellynor has another problem: all her life, she has worshipped the gentle nigh goddess Dark Mother. She hasn’t converted to the worship of the Silver Lady and hasn’t told anyone about it. Dark Mother has also given her the gifts of healing, seeing perfectly in darkness, and moving almost invisibly in darkness. Ellynor doesn’t consider these gifts to be magic or herself to be a mystic. Unfortunately, according to Gillangaria’s culture she is a mystic. If her fellow priestesses find out, they will burn her on the stake.
There’s a secondary plotline about the Tayse and Senneth who are recruiting fighters and allies for the king. They even talk to some men from the Lirrenlands. Senneth has spent a few years there and was adopted into one of the clans so she’s hoping to persuade some of the clans to ally with the king. She also returns to her erstwhile home where her high-born family hears that she’s in a relationship with “a common soldier”. (I would hardly think of the Chief of the King’s Riders to be a common soldier…)
The book contains a lot of fighting, escapes, desperate lovers, fast plot twist, and friends closer than family. So by itself it’s an enjoyable read.
Unfortunately, some of the things in it just don’t make sense. One of them is right at the start. In the first chapter, Cammon and Justin save a mystic who is being tortured by the Lestra’s men. One of the men is allowed to live. Yet, instead of asking the man about, for example, the Lestra’s plans and the overlay of the convent, he allowed to go away. So, they already know for sure that the Lestra is ordering men to kill mystics. If the Lestra is clearly responsible for murdering other citizens, shouldn’t the king be more than justified in arresting her and her followers?
Which bring me to the second point: there also seems to be no legal system. The Lestra’s men are killing mystics and the King doesn’t like it. Yet, the King doesn’t do legally anything to stop it. When a man attacks Ellynore on the street she doesn’t even consider the possibility of reporting the man to authorities. Or to the Lestra, for that matter. So, it seems that the characters in the book aren’t citizens who could rely on any sort of legal protection. How a large country can work like this, I can’t really understand.
There’s a lot of talk about the goddesses and yet, the convent system seems to be the only form of organized religion.
Then there’s Ellynore and her cousin in the convent. Her cousin Rosurie fell in love with the wrong man and was sent to the convent “while the men decided what to do with her”. Ellynor was sent to keep her company. The problem here is that the girls and their families are from a country where apparently only the Dark Mother is worshipped and the Silver Lady is completely unknown. Why would any family send their girls to worship a completely unknown goddess? The girls don’t even know what a mystic is!
However, my main problem was, once again, that the whole thing wasn’t fantastic enough. The cultures of Gillangaria and Lirrenlands are only superficially different. Inside, they are very much the same. Both value warriors highly. Both value warriors as husbands and neither seems to have any reservations about, for example, the warrior husband dying early or becoming violent towards his wife. Superficially, both have strictly monogamous marriages and yet pre-marital sex doesn’t seem to be a problem. Everybody is 100% heterosexual. Both cultures are also patriarchal and have modern Western rape culture. The one where, when a man attacks a woman, *she* is the one who is blamed and gets in trouble.
Also, Justin and Ellynor don’t talk about the practical side of the marriage. In previous books, it was sort of understandable when the couples came from the same culture so it’s likely that they understood what, for example, their legal standings are. However, when the couple is supposed to come from different cultures, they don’t know any of these things. Does the man now own everything the woman owned? Is the woman now considered part of the male and is therefore not, for example, a whole person in the eyes of the law or not able to make contracts on her own? A lot was said about how Ellynor’s male relatives would thrash Justin before the wedding but what about after it? Would Justin be held accountable for how he treats Ellynore or could he do anything to her? What about divorce? Was there an expectation of children within a certain number of years?
It felt somewhat ridiculous that the two would talk so much about practically everything else but not about what would happen and be expected in the marriage. To me, it also felt that their lives would end after wedding because clearly no-one was interested in what would happen afterwards.
I was also a bit disappointed how easily things worked out in the end. It also seems to me, that once again, the woman in the relationship has to give up her family, friends, future plans, and everything else to be in the relationship while the man gave up… well, being single. Not balanced at all!
I have also some problems with the inconstancies in Cammon’s powers but hopefully the next book will deal with them at least a bit.
Ultimately, the book didn’t really work for me. I liked it when I listened it, but when I started think about it even a little, many of the things in it made no sense. However, I’m curious enough about the fate of Gillengaria to get the next book. I believe that the major story archs will be closed in it.
It seems that quite a few readers have liked Shinn’s SF more and I hope they will also come out in audio format.