Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn

Troubled Waters is set in a world where people believe that their lives are ruled by one of the five elements – Air (Elay), Wood (Hunti), Fire (Sweela), Water (Coru) and Earth (Torz). The elements also coincide with physical traits – Air with soul, Wood with bone, Fire with mind, Water with blood and Earth with flesh. They each draw traits from each element, and they are identified by the element that they choose to describe themselves as at adolescence. This novel follows Zoe, who has been in exile with her father for the past ten years and is now brought back to civilization to marry the King, and her subsequent realization that she is the Coru Prime – the head of all people who identify as Coru, and the person who has the ability to control both water and blood.

An original ‘magic’ system

Elemental stories have been popular in the past few years, and this is one of the best that I’ve read in awhile. The fact that the elements have physical correspondents within the body is something that I find very interesting and fitting. Shinn has crafted a truly wonderful and intricate way of making the elements something new and interesting instead of the same old “Ooh, look. I shoot flames out of my hands.” that we see all the time.

A fantastic heroine

So often in fantasy books if there’s a female lead, there’s also a man beside her that’s of equal power to her and that balances her out. Personally, I hate that. I want to see a woman who has an extreme amount of power and doesn’t need a man in her life telling her what to do. With this book I got that. Yes, there’s still romance (after all, a romantic subplot is what Shinn is known for), but it’s not an integral plot of the story. Zoe is her own woman, and she makes that point known with everyone that she encounters. She’s a strong person who doesn’t stand up to other people’s nonsense, and she doesn’t give any of her own. Personally, I admire her.
I did notice one problem with her, though. After finding out that she’s the Coru Prime and that she has an unimaginable amount of power, she completely changes. There’s no grace period where she adapts to it, no time where she’s uncertain of who she is and what this change in her life means – and that was something that really confused me. If you find out that you have control over an entire element, then you’re going to pause and say to yourself, “Well, holy crap, what does this mean?” – you don’t just relish in your new powers and never confront the fact that you have responsibility.

Not very well paced

The start of the story is good; we get some interesting character development and we find out what the main strife in the novel is going to be. So far, so good. The next hundred pages after that? Not so great. I grew bored and restless wanting something to happen. There were a few times when I thought something had a possibility to become part of the actual plot, but it ended up being nothing – and every time it made me want to put down the novel. But once you hit a point about a third of the way in (which is the amount of time I give every book before I put it down), you’re just totally sucked into the book and there’s no going back.

Lots of political intrigue

If you’re someone that loves political intrigue, this is definitely a book that you’re going to have to pick up. I’ve read plenty of novels that attempt political intrigue as a sub-plot, but it ultimately fails because the author doesn’t put enough effort into it. This book is pretty much all about the politics of the court where Zoe spends a lot of her time. Thwarted assassination attempts, poisons galore, secret trysts, and so much more make this novel incredibly alluring.

Why you should read this book

Sharon Shinn is a master storyteller and I’ve always been a fan of her work, but she truly outdid herself with this novel. The intricate tale is something that will leave you breathless in places, and it was something that I truly enjoyed reading. Not only is the heroine interesting, but the plot and all other characters are fascinating as well. Shinn took a lot of risks with this novel, simply because elemental stories are something that people get tired of after awhile, but it definitely paid off. I’m eagerly awaiting a sequel so I can see more of Zoe (or possibly some of the other elemental primes).

About James Starke

James Starke
James is 21 years old and has been described as many things in life – pop music lover, book nerd, movie geek, cookie nommer, bookshelf filler, tortured writer, tech dork, television watcher, webcomic addict, fierce supermodel, crazy cat lady, musical fanatic, a loyal Hufflepuff, GLEEk to the Nth degree, pizza eater, future librarian, a horrible procrastinator, Poké-freak, eyeglass wearer, a lover of the arts, and a zombie unicorn that sparkles in the night (well, actually that might’ve just been once). He prefers to describe himself as “a man of odd enthusiasms.”

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