Fortune and Fate - Sharon Shinn This is one of my favorite fantasy novels. I love it and have read it at least three times. The protagonist Wen is on the run from her private demons. Two years ago, she was a King’s Rider, a respected member of the elite palace guard, until a disaster struck: during her watch, the king was assassinated. Despite being gravely wounded while protecting the king, Wen feels that she had failed in her duty. Afflicted by the survivor’s guilt, she abandoned the Riders and her own self-respect. Now, she roams the country aimlessly, trying to atone.
The entire above paragraph is a back story, which the author dishes out skillfully in bits and pieces. The story starts two years later, when Wen helps a sixteen-year-old girl Karryn escape kidnappers. Karryn’s guardian Jasper, impressed by Wen’s military skills, offers her the position of the Captain of the House guards. Wen grudgingly accepts but warns her employer not to rely on her. She isn’t worthy of his trust. Or so she thinks.
Thus starts an unlikely romance between Wen, a professional soldier who never read a book in her life, and Jasper, a soft intellectual who reads non-stop, writes historical tractates, but never held a weapon. Their contradictions attract each other, underlining the writer’s original approach to a love story.
To lift Wen’s self-esteem, Jasper recites poetry to her. She, on the other hand, plans defensive strategies and dreams of Jasper’s bed. She also asks him the meanings of longer words. He is glad to explain, while the reader smiles and avidly turns the pages.
With the country’s political intrigues in the background, the woman soldier and the man poet are trying to discover ways into each other’s hearts while attempting to keep Karryn safe. Multiple little skirmishes, kidnappings, and betrayals dot the storyline, as the tension mounts, but nothing can detract the happy reader from the writer’s mastery of language and her subtle, wry humor.
Enriched by the reverse gender roles – a tormented female warrior who can’t forgive herself and a complacent male scholar who never knew doubt before, except in the academic sense – the story develops quietly, typically Shinn, defying the genre prescriptions. Instead of bloody battles or incredible fits of magic, two lonely souls grope for healing and understanding, finally finding both in each other’s arms.
Densely populated by many colorful secondary characters, some of whom fans have known since the introduction of the series, the novel is in essence a love story of Wen and Jasper, a romantic fantasy at its best. Highly recommended.