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Mystic and Rider: A Novel of the Twelve Houses    by Sharon Shinn order for
Mystic and Rider
by Sharon Shinn
Order:  USA  Can
Ace, 2005 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I try to keep up with everything that Sharon Shinn writes and have particularly enjoyed her Samaria novels. Mystic and Rider launches a new Twelve Houses series, romantic fantasy set in the kingdom of Gillengaria, ruled by King Baryn and by twelve Marlords.

The king assigns a trusted female mystic named Senneth to lead an expedition south to investigate rumors of revolt, impending civil war, and a slaughter of mystics in the south of the kingdom. Senneth's many talents include power over fire and healing skills, and she is the sole mystic who can bear to touch moonstones. Accompanying her is Serramarra Kirra, eldest daughter of the powerful Danalustrous House, a healer and shape changer. With Kirra is her protective, shape-shifting servant and friend, Donnal. And the king has assigned two of his elite Riders, Tayse and Justin, to protect the others. The Riders' distrust of the mystics' motives and powers leads to ongoing tension in the team. Tayse in particular is convinced that Senneth is hiding something - and he's correct.

What follows is a rambling quest through southern lands, involving a series of adventures, injuries, great ongoing peril, and a growing romance. The group picks up two important additions along the way. Cammon is an abused, orphaned mystic, forced to work in a tavern - he turns out to be a sensitive with almost telepathic talents. The second addition is a raelynx, from the mysterious Lirrenlands. The creature has been terrorizing a town, and Senneth takes control of its mind to stop it killing or being killed - the beast turns out to have its uses on the journey. Gradually, the travelers and the reader learn more about the backgrounds of each of the questors, and more about what's happening in the kingdom. It seems that Coralinda, of the Gisseltess House, has taken over the order of the Pale Mother and is leading a systematic campaign to eliminate mystics.

When they finally return to the palace in Ghosenhall, some (but not all) secrets are revealed. It turns out that part of the reason for the kingdom's unrest is that Baryn has kept his daughter and heir, Princess Amalie hidden since an attempt on her life. He has also taken a mysterious new young wife, Valri, who is widely believed to be a mystic. As this episode ends, Senneth is assigned another mission and must choose her companions. I look forward very much to the second in an exciting new series.

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