Author: Sharon Shinn
Title: Troubled Waters
Series: Elemental Blessings 1
Genre: High Fantasy
Rating: Four Petals
On the Author's Website:
Zoe Ardelay is living in an obscure village, mourning her father’s death, when a powerful man named Darien Serlast arrives and informs her she must travel to the royal city and become the king’s fifth bride. Numb with grief, she accompanies him to the city of Chialto, but she is able to slip away from him and hide among the city’s vagrants. She doesn’t want to marry the king, but she doesn’t know what her destiny holds.
Like everyone else in Chialto, Zoe frequently seeks guidance at the temples, pulling “random blessings” from great barrels of stamped coins; each blessing is related to one of the five elemental influences of air, water, fire, wood, and earth. Zoe is coru, a woman of water, and so was her mother and all her mother’s family; her father was sweela, a man of fire. Her brilliant father was exiled by the king at the urging of Zoe’s coru grandmother, and now Zoe wants to know why. But if she uncovers the momentous secrets of her family’s past, will her whole life change? Do her father’s secrets put the king at risk? And could Darien Serlast help her put the puzzle pieces together—if he would?
I know I say this a lot, but world-building is very important to me in deciding which books are good and which ones are excellent. Troubled Waters easily falls into the excellent category. Every single inch of the world is perfectly depicted, from the layout of the rivers and canals throughout the country to the cultural aspects that define the people. The blessings were my favorite part. At birth, a baby's father rushes to a temple where strangers pick what is known as blessings out of a communal barrel and those blessings guide the child into adulthood. Throughout life, if someone needs additional guidance or simply needs to realign themselves, they can visit the temple and pull blessings for themselves. I found it gave depth and interest to the world.
It was also interesting to read about the five different types of powers and people. Each person in the world is aligned with an element--air, water, fire, wood, and earth--and that element influences their personality and even life decisions. Zoe, for example, is coru, which means she's aligned with water. It means she's persistent and if one plan is halted she will work to find another path around it. She comes to the city not knowing what is in store for her, but understands that she needs to figure out why her father was exiled and how she can fit herself back into the world he was forced out of.
Of course, having a person's personality so defined by element and blessings unfortunately made them feel very one-dimensional. A person of fire would have a fiery personality without fail or a person who pulled a blessing of courage would inevitably do something courageous. It's an issue that worked because that's how the world works, but was still a little disappointing considering how wonderful the rest of the book was.
This book has world-building that is so amazingly detailed that I couldn't help falling in love with the book and this series. The characterizations were a touch one-dimensional, but it worked with the world and does absolutely nothing to keep me from absolutely recommending this book.
Maggie reviews paranormal and fantasy novels and novellas. She also interviews authors and hosts giveaways.