Mystic and Rider by Sharon Shinn. ★★★★
From the cover blurb: “Gillengaria seethes with unrest. In the south, hostility toward magic and its users has risen to a dangerous level, though King Baryn has ordered that such mystics are to be tolerated… The King knows there are those in the noble Twelve Houses who could use this growing dissent to overthrow him. So he dispatches the mystic Senneth to assess the threat throughout the realm. Accompanying her is a motley band of magic-users and warriors including Tayse, first among the King’s Riders—who holds a hard view of mystics in general, and Senneth in particular.”
Like the other Sharon Shinn books I’ve read, Mystic and Rider is most certainly character based. There wasn’t a whole lot of suspense or action; instead, it was the enjoyable characters who made me keep picking up this book.
The “motley band” that makes up the center of this book is composed of six distinct characters: Senneth, Tayse, Kirra, Donnal, Justin and Cammon.
Senneth is the “Mystic” of the title. She has a mysterious and difficult past and possesses powers that relate to fire and the sun. She’s cool headed and collected, but also possesses a fierce passion to do the right thing and to protect the defenseless, even if it endangers herself and her mission. She’s handy with a sword and not someone you’d want to mess with in a fight. She’s also one of the better female characters I’ve read and my favorite written by Sharon Shinn.
Tayse is the “Rider” of the title. As the cover blurb says, he distrusts mystics, particularly Senneth because he sees her as not having any fixed allegiances. Over the course of the book, he starts to reconsider his world view and his attitude towards mystics.
I liked that Senneth was not the only female character of the band – there was also Kirra. And not only that, but Kirra was so different from Senneth. She’s the sort of character who is not often seen as a protagonist in fantasy novels or well created if she is. Namely, Kirra is much more traditionally feminine. She’s outgoing and beautiful and never picks up a sword in the course of the book, but she’s far from useless or helpless. Often times she is the one who gathers important information or soothes the group’s way through her charm and noble connections. Plus, she’s a talented mystic with the powers of shapeshifting and healing. Underestimate her at your peril.
I felt Donnal to be the least well developed of the characters. He’s a shapeshifter who’s devoted to Kirra, but I never got much of a sense of his personality.
Justin was the other King’s Rider of the group. From the outset, he doesn’t trust any of the others besides Tayse and is openly disdainful and fearful of some of them. But over the course of the story, he grows to befriend and admire the mystics he travels with.
The others picked up Cammon in the first chapter of the book. He’s a “sensitive,” or a mystic with the abilities of picking up the emotions and desires of the people and animals around him.
As the title makes clear, Senneth and Tayse are at the center of the story. As is also obvious to anyone familiar with Sharon Shinn’s work, their romance and relationship slowly develops throughout the narrative. She’s one of those authors that I can always rely upon not to write stories where the main characters fall immediately and inexplicably in love at first sight.
The magic system is also noteworthy. While I don’t want to spoil the revelations of later in the book, it’s an interesting set up that I hope will be explored more later in the series, because in the end, Mystic and Rider did feel like the first in a series. This chapter of the plot may be closed, but plenty has yet to be discovered and questions are still up in the air.
I would recommend this book to people looking for a slower paced fantasy story with likable characters. It may not have the shades of grey and grit that seems to be infusing the fantasy genera lately, but it’s still a wonderful book with merits of it’s own. That being said, if action and an addicting plot are what you look for, you’d be best off seeking elsewhere.