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The Thirteenth House    by Sharon Shinn order for
Thirteenth House
by Sharon Shinn
Order:  USA  Can
Ace, 2006 (2006)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Twelve Houses is one of those series that readers enjoy for the characters who inhabit it at least as much as the fantasy world and plot. It's set in the kingdom of Gillengaria, ruled by King Baryn and a high nobility of twelve Marlords. The first volume, Mystic and Rider, introduced a realm in turmoil - its king aging, his young foreign wife Valri distrusted, and his daughter and heir (Amalie) a mysterious unknown to the nobility, with the southerners on the brink of rebellion.

The first book introduced - to readers and each other - a group of mystics (individuals with unique magical talents) and King's Riders, sent on a mission by Baryn to investigate rumors of a systematic slaughter of mystics in the south of the kingdom, and of impending civil war. The mission was led by Senneth, a healer with power over fire. With her was Serramarra Kirra, eldest daughter of the Danalustrous House, a healer and shape changer, and her protective, shape-shifting companion, Donnal. Along the way they enlisted abused, orphaned Cammon, a sensitive with almost telepathic gifts. The king sent with them two of his elite Riders, Tayse and Justin. Though there was initial distrust and tension between mystics and Riders, a strong bond developed as they faced danger together, and romance grew between Senneth and Tayse. They discovered Coralinda Gisseltess leading the order of the Pale Mother in a systematic campaign to eliminate mystics, while Halchon Gisseltess fomented rebellion against the king.

As this second episode opens, we see Kirra take center stage, on yet another mission - along with Donnal, Justin and Cammon - to rescue the king's abducted regent (his daughter's uncle), Romar Brendyn. They get Romar safely back to the king's palace in Ghosenhall. Kirra returns to Danalustrous and the news that her father has finally chosen his heir - her younger sister Casserah, who has the same connection to the land and its folk as her father does. But when Malcolm Danalustrous feels it would be wise for Casserah to accept invitations from other Marlords, she refuses to leave home, and it's decided that Kirra should go - in the form of her sister, and with Donnal as a black dog. At the same time, an entourage sets out from Ghosenhall, with the intent of letting the nobility get to know their princess Amalie. Accompanying her are the queen, Senneth and Tayse, and her uncle Romar, to whom Kirra feels a strong attraction, despite his being married.

As these two groups visit different domains, there are attempts against both Romar and Amalie, while Kirra and the regent give in to their feelings for each other (once he realizes who she really is). The title of the episode, The Thirteenth House, refers to minor members of the noble class, who seek more power, and many of whom are ready to go to extreme lengths to win it. As romance and politics play out, Kirra is forced to make a hard decision - to use her powers in a way that is forbidden, in order to save a child's life. And after she is forced to understand the hurt she's caused to others, Kirra takes action that is equally admirable and painful to her. The Thirteenth House is another magical episode in a series packed with engaging characters, action, mystery, and forbidden romance. I can't wait to read the next book, Dark Moon Defender.

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