Sharon Shinn is always dependable. I know that doesn’t sound like high praise, but sometimes you just need something solid that you know you’ll enjoy, and this fit the bill. She’s got good characters, interesting (if sometimes a little unoriginal) plots, and happy endings (and terrible covers, good god!).
Zoe lives with her father in a tiny town far from the capital city. Her father used to be advisor to the king, but after a disagreement and falling out, he was exiled and ran away with Zoe, keeping her away from her (deceased) mother’s side of the family. Then her father gets sick and dies, and the king’s new advisor Darien comes to collect her, planning to take her back to the capital so she can become the king’s fifth wife. Though she’s drowning in her grief (water pun, heh – Zoe would get it), Zoe stirs up enough gumption to run off once they get to the capital. She spends some time homeless, gets a job as a shop girl, and learns a lot about life, herself, and her goals.
In this world, people are tied to their elements, with traits and blessings wrapped up in whether you’re aligned with wood, fire, air, water, or earth. Zoe turns out to be very powerful with all things water-related, which her maternal grandmother and her father both knew, but never told her. So then she has a whole destiny to explore, and she gets to spar with Darien, who she doesn’t trust but is nevertheless drawn to. He knows more about her own past than she does, and he knows the city and the king, and he thinks he knows her, which of course infuriates her. I like that she’s imminently sensible, though, no matter how many unexpected adventures happen to her. She’s smart and she knows it, and she acts accordingly, which I liked.
We’ve got political intrigue, palace drama, family loyalties tested, destinies embraced, and love discovered. It all wraps up very quickly, so I was thinking there would be more in a sequel, but it turns out the next book is years in the future and about another character, so maybe not. But I liked Zoe kicking butt all over the place, so I hope she shows up at least a little in the next book.