A devastating civil war provides the backdrop for Sharon Shinn’s sweepingly romantic Twelve Houses saga. In faraway Gillengaria, Elderly King Baryn’s sole heir, his shy teenaged daughter Amalie, is widely perceived as unsuitable to reign in his stead, and the King’s advancing age has many in the Twelve Houses of Gillengarian nobility extremely nervous about the future. Baryn has also infuriated many of his subjects with his support for the powerful but widely feared and despised Mystics, whose individual talents vary but can include shape-changing, mind-reading, healing, control of the elements, or other abilities. (Comparisons with the X-Men are probably inevitable.)
Baryn’s allies include Senneth, a powerful fire mystic; Kirra, a shapechanger and member of one of the Twelve noble Houses; Donnal, another shapechanger who is Kirra’s loyal companion; and Tayse and Justin, members of the elite corps of bodyguards known as the King’s Riders. They’re soon joined by Cammon, an orphan of low birth who can read minds. Together, the six do their best to maintain peace across the land…and often, to their complete astonishment, find love where they least expect it.
Shinn writes gentle, soothing, PG-rated novels; if you like Lynn Kurland’s work, particularly her Nine Kingdoms books, you’ll like these. And that’s fine. Everything doesn’t need to kick it all edgy Fifty Shades-style. Of course, the only thing better than falling into the soft, warm literary goose-down quilts of her books is imagining them on the big screen. Here’s who I’d pick for the major roles.
Mystic and Rider
King Baryn sends Senneth on a tour of the countryside to sound out the nobles and gauge the possibility of an uprising. Tayse and Justin are her protectors, and Kirra and Donnal are along for the ride. But as Senneth and Tayse grow closer, the news from the countryside grows ever more dire…
Senneth: Sometimes described as the most powerful Mystic in Gillengaria, the white-blonde Senneth is tough yet feminine, with an underlying sadness about her. Blonde+tough+sad: Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff fits the bill nicely.
Tayse: Tayse is dark-haired and big; seriously, I wish I had a dollar for every time Shinn references his broad shoulders in this series. I can think of no one better to don Tayse’s well-filled-out shirt than Joe Manganiello of True Blood and the forthcoming Magic Mike. Of course, if I were fantasy-scriptwriting, I’d be sure to write in a few extra scenes in which he removes that shirt. It’s never the wrong time to admire Manganiello’s magnificent assets.
The Thirteenth House
This one is complicated! Shapechanger Kirra assumes her sister Casserah’s form in order to spy on errant members of the aristocracy for the king, and her deep bond with Donnal is threatened when she falls for a very married man.
This coming-of-age tale is one of Shinn’s more controversial works, given the whole adultery angle and the bittersweet ending (let’s just say that Kirra does a lot of growing up here).
So basically, we’re casting four people: Kirra, Casserah, Donnal, and Kirra’s forbidden love Romar.
Kirra: We need someone young and beautiful, headstrong and foolish but not beyond improvement.
I like Leven Rambin; she’s certainly gorgeous, and as Glimmer in The Hunger Games she showed that she can carry off Kirra’s innate air of privilege, as well.
Casserah: Anna Kendrick has the necessary depth to effectively portray both the calm, cool Casserah and the more feisty and ebullient Kirra-as-Casserah, and the requisite talent to differentiate the two.
Donnal: While I’m on a Hunger Games kick anyway, who could fill these shoes better than the world’s most famous Friend Zone resident, Liam Hemsworth?
Romar: Romar loves his wife, and he loves Kirra; he cheats on his wife, but he’s not proud of it. He’s not necessarily ashamed of it, mind. I’m thinking…hmmm…Henry Ian Cusick (Lost, Scandal).
Dark Moon Defender
Tayse’s protégé Justin falls hard for Ellynor, a beautiful young novice at a convent that happens to be run by one of the most strident anti-Mystic leaders in Gillengaria. Ellynor may secretly be a mystic, and furthermore her particular culture dictates that even if she makes it out of the convent in one piece, if she wants to marry Justin he must first slay one of her family members in hand-to-hand combat.
Justin: Justin can totally kick your ass, and his portrayer needs to embody physicality above all else. I propose the very physical Channing Tatum, who is – you may have noticed – having a Moment right now.
Ellynor: Dark-haired, intelligent, and lovely: Behold Terra Nova’s pretty science geek Naomi Scott.
Reader and Raelynx
Cammon, the “kid brother” of the group, is recruited to use his mind-reading skills to divine the true intentions of sweet Amalie’s many suitors. Complications arise when he himself falls in passionate, completely unsuitable love with the Princess.
Cammon: Just roll with it, because I’m thinking outside the box here: What about Game of Thrones’ Jack Gleeson?
He’s about the right age, and he’s hella talented. In fact, he embodies the frankly evil Joffrey so effectively that he’ll pretty much have to take a job portraying portray a kind-hearted beta hero like Cammon if he wants to avoid being typecast.
Amalie: With her ethereal beauty and calm demeanor, Saoirse Ronan would make an excellent Amalie, don’t you think?
Fortune and Fate
As the nation picks up the pieces after the war’s end, a former King’s Rider named Willawendiss, aka Wen, is recovering from a humiliating defeat in battle and trying to build a new life for herself. She takes a job as head of security for a spoiled but basically nice young heiress – never expecting to find love with the heiress’ scholarly uncle.
Jasper: Slightly older, somewhat cerebral, endearingly courtly, radiating intelligence and (ultimately) completely irresistible. Sounds like White Collar’s Tim DeKay to me!
Wen: In Game of Thrones, Emilia Clarke rocks the house as a strong young woman who gets in touch with her inner badass while rebuilding her life after a tragedy. She would be perfect here…although, unfortunately, dragon-wrangling is not on the agenda for Wen. (Also: If I ever have another daughter, I’m totally going to name her “Willawendiss.”)
Finally, although time and space considerations preclude my casting most of the secondary roles, I always have time for the bad guys! As Halchon Gisseltess, Senneth’s suitor turned tormentor, Jason Isaacs would give just the right combination of sinister and sexy. And as Coralinda, head of the abovementioned convent and Mystic-hunter extraordinaire, I like Once Upon A Time’s terrifying Lana Parilla.
Kate Nagy is Editor at Large of Geek Speak magazine.