The Unquiet Land, by Sharon Shinn, (Ace)
Although I had heard the author’s name, I had not read any of her work. It’s always a risk picking up a book in the middle of a series; much of the time, you get either huge chunks of expository backstory or you are lost by references to the same. Shinn skillfully draws the reader into her rich, intricate world, filled with marvelously depicted characters and even more nuanced relationships. This world is one of small island states, each with its own unique and sometimes bizarre culture. Although there is definitely a story “off the pages,” it’s not at all necessary to have started at the beginning to fully enjoy this one.
Leah has returned to the city of her birth after a period of exile, political intrigue, and a relationship that might develop into a romance. In between getting to know the young daughter she left behind, figuring out her place and what she wants for her future, she crosses paths with travelers from another island state, strangers whose political ambitions and utter amorality threaten everyone she holds dear. Although the story has plenty of suspense and dramatic movement, what stood out for me was the emphasis on relationships – new ones, old ones, those laden with regret and those inspiring hope. The sheer number of characters and the system of magic, the religious blessings and traditions, all these elements might have seemed overwhelming in the hands of a less competent writer, but Shinn weaves them all together to bring dimensionality and emotional resonance to every aspect of Leah’s world.