Review: Troubled Waters

Posted: April 15, 2011 by in Books that are Mediocre (3/5 single_star) Meta: Sharon Shinn, Fantasy, Young Adult

Zoe is a coru woman, which means she has an affinity to water and blood, and the traits associated with it. But Zoe is different: water comes when she calls.

Zoe’s father was the king’s closest adviser, but ten years ago was exiled from court, and took his young daughter with him to live in a small village. At the opening of TROUBLED WATERS (Amazon), Zoe finds herself an orphan; the day after the funeral, the king’s adviser, Darien Serlast, comes to collect her to become the king’s fifth wife.

With nothing left to tie her to the village, Zoe goes with Darien to the city to marry the king. At least, that’s what Darien tells Zoe. It turns out he knows a lot more than he lets on. As a result, Zoe doesn’t trust him, and at the first opportunity, she escapes into the city and the obscurity of the river flats, where the city’s poor gather to sleep.

TROUBLED WATERS is an undemanding story to read, with flowing prose, subtle foreshadowing, and steady pacing–and not a whole lot going wrong for our heroine. Certainly her father died, but I kept waiting for a tragic turn in the story. Anything. There was a brief episode where her money is stolen, but she retrieves it on the very same page. This is a la-de-da skipping through town, living in the safe (?!?) homeless tent town on the river flats, easily finding a hap-hap-happy cobbler and his wife to hire her as a shopkeeper, all of the food is delicious, everyone is all so well meaning, the clothes are lovely, and then she discovers she’s the heir of a wealthy and powerful noble house.

What does all this equal? Not much tension. So what’s to keep a reader turning pages? In this case, the world building. Oh… and, um, if you’re inclined for it, a sweet love story.

The first hundred pages consists of leisurely forward movement, it’s almost exclusively world building. We learn a lot about the city, but the main focus is the magic of the element/spirit traits of the people (water, wood, fire, earth, air). These classifications shape society, behavior, and their understanding of each other. This is what kept me reading more than the characters, especially Zoe who sometimes felt like she was just going through the motions of the story. Her actions are inconsistent, she makes foolish decisions (usually without consequences), and is thrown into a position of power but provided no guidance–all things which happen to be useful to advancing the story, but makes Zoe difficult to like and the plot often unbelievable.

TROUBLED WATERS is a sweet book, with nice characters, and a happy ending.

There are a few other characters, most of them friends or relatives of Zoe, who help her out and provide support and encouragement. She eventually interacts with the queens, princesses, king, and other important people of the city, but all of these are shallow caricatures, if entertaining. The most well-drawn person in the book is her love interest, Darien Serlast. He is a hunti (wood/bone) man, and as a result is determined and unyielding. As the king’s right-hand man, he has power and responsibility in his own right. Zoe’s very nature frustrates him…and intrigues him.

As the head of her noble house, or ‘prime’, Zoe comes into her powers and discovers the extent of what of a coru prime really can do. As the story progresses, she learns some disturbing truths about her father and the king, and as a result becomes embroiled in court intrigue. She comes to rely on Darien, and he on her. You can pretty much guess the results.

TROUBLED WATERS is a sweet book, with nice characters, and a happy ending. Sure there are some contrivances, but it’s not the kind of book you can let yourself get stuck on the unbelievable parts. This is a good one for those who like to avoid the rough and dark stuff out there.

  • Recommended Age: 14+ for reading level and comprehension more than content. This is a YA novel shelved in the adult section.
  • Language: None
  • Violence: None
  • Sex: Kissing and some talk about affairs


  • medieval.woman says:

    Haven't read this one, but I did just read Sharon Shinn's Quatrains (?) the other day. One great, gripping story, one story that seemed to cut off at the good part, one story with a plot but not a lot of intensity, and one story with a magic user who keeps getting accused of worse and worse things and responds with equanimity to all. I think you've captured the way Shinn writes for sure. When I read her books I often get sucked in by the language–plot sometimes seems to be secondary.

    I was pleased with the secret keeper, Summers in Castle Auburn, and her Jane Eyre rewrite (and who would do that? weird, but it worked), and put down some other books that seemed to have no plot at all. But she is a terrific writer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *