Sharon Shinn – “Mystic And Rider”

19 Dec

GENRE: Fantasy
PUBLISHED: Ace Books, 2006

The back blurb:
“Gillengaria seethes with unrest. In the south, hostility toward magic and its users has risen to a dangerous level, though King Baryn has ordered that such mystics are to be tolerated. It is whispered that he issued the decree because his new wife used her magic powers to ensnare him …
The King knows there are those in the noble Twelve Houses who could use this growing dissent to overthrow him. So he dispatches the mystic Senneth to assess the threat throughout the realm. Accompanying her is a motley band of magic users and warriors including Tayse, first among the King’s Riders – who holds a hard view of mystics in general, and Senneth in particular.
But as the unlikely allies venture farther into the south, they will face death in a land under the sway of a fanatical cult that would purge Gillengaria of all magic users. And they will come to realize that their only hope of survival lies in standing together …”

Mystic and Rider is the first instalment of a new fantasy series by Sharon Shinn. As such, it is nearly the prototype of a introductory novel: a group of six adventurers (mystics and Riders) are investigating the rumours of unrest in southern Gillengaria at the request of the King. And this is more or less the whole plot of this road adventure novel.

It’s episodic instead of following the pattern of rising action, climax and resolution. The group travels from one place to another and (nearly) at each spop something happens. What does change is, that it gets more perilous the farther south the group goes. Wandering around is a classic device to let the reader know about the world of the novel without too much info-dump. The reader learns about the Twelve Houses, their alliances and history, and where they would possibly stand if there is a rebellion against the King; and about a religious cult that is shaping up to play an important part in the next books.

The problem is, it’s soon clear that trouble is brewing but the six go on. Why? Answer: so the reader gets to see all of the kingdom (well, okay, some parts are still missing). He/She ends the novel with more or less the same things that started it: there is trouble in the south. And not the least of it is because of religious differences. Small consolation, at least it seems Mystic and Rider ends with all the players in place and set up for “action” in the next volume.

What made Mystic and Rider an interesting read nonetheless is Shinn’s description of the characters’ relations with each other. The small group of six mirrors the conflict between mystics and non-mystics in Gillengaria’s society where non-mystic people are wary or distrustful of mystics. This conflict is even more pronounced in the developing relationship between Senneth and Tayse. But whereas the novel ends with some kind of trust between the group’s riders and mystics (and Senneth’s and Tayse’s love), society at large is heading for big trouble here with the emergence of the religious cult. Aside from questions about how to deal with differences (or minorities), Shinn also addresses questions about power and the struggle for power, and about loyalty and how far loyalty should go. Interesting stuff, and it’s what kept me reading.

One thing I found a little annoying: some of the mystics’ skills seemed a bit too convenient; as is the raelynx (some kind of cat) sometimes; Senneth is the often encountered over-powered chick in fantasy series – especially in comparison with other mystics and their abilities here.

Would I recommend this novel? Probably yes.

Would I read this novel again? Maybe; depends on the next one.

Grade: 3,5 / 5


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