Unquiet Land (Elemental Blessings #4)
Ace / November 1, 2016 / $26.00 print, $12.99 digital
Leah Frothen has returned home to rebuild the life she’s avoided for years. But she can scarcely catch her breath before she is summoned to meet with the regent, Darien Serlast, the man who made her a spy. Leah is reluctant to take on a new assignment, but Darien has dangled the perfect lure to draw her in...
Leah finds she enjoys the challenges of opening a shop catering to foreign visitors, especially since it affords her the opportunity to get to know Mally, the child she abandoned five years ago. Leah is simultaneously thrilled, terrified, hopeful, moved, and almost undone as she slowly attempts to become part of her daughter’s life.
But when the regent asks her to spy on ambassadors from a visiting nation, she develops a dangerous friendship with a foreign woman and finds herself falling in love with a man from her past. Soon Leah learns that everyone—her regent, her lover, and even her daughter—have secrets that could save the nation, but might very well break her heart.
Sharon Shinn has many strengths as a writer, but one of her biggest must certainly be her world-building abilities. In her Samaria novels, her Twelve Houses books, and most recently her Elemental Blessings series, she creates vibrant and magical universes that are wholly relatable while being just exotic enough to be interesting.
In the Elemental Blessings books, of which Unquiet Land is the latest installment, Shinn transports us to the country of Welce, where everyone is spiritually aligned with one of the five major elements—Earth, air, water, bone, and fire. Although there’s a certain amount of variation with respect to how these elements are expressed in an individual, each element is associated with specific personality traits. For example, elay (air-aligned) individuals are considered generous and honorable... but maybe a little flaky; hunti (bone) people are rigid and inflexible, but courageous and extremely reliable; coru (water) affiliated people are flexible, sometimes to a fault; and sweela (fire) folk tend to be unpredictable and hot-headed, but passionate and quick on their feet.
Leah Frothen, the heroine of Unquiet Land, is torz, affiliated with the earth. As such, she’s both patient and honest, and these traits will serve her well in the adventure in which she finds herself.
We most recently encountered Leah in Shinn’s Jeweled Fire, in which she was a spy assigned by Darien Serlast—Welce’s recently-appointed king and husband to Zoe Ardelay, the coru prime (the primes being the most powerful individuals affiliated with each element)—to keep an eye on Darien’s daughter, Corene, after the latter ran away to seek her fortune in faraway Malinqua. Leah was happy enough there, working in a sort of Malinquan Pier One alongside her good friend Chandran (a mysterious, if devastatingly handsome, fellow), keeping tabs on the various Welchins and other foreigners who made their way to her shop, and reporting back to Darien on a regular basis.
But with Corene’s affairs mostly sorted (you’ll definitely want to read Jeweled Fire for the details—it’s a lot of fun), Leah realizes that it’s time for her to go home and face her own past. As a younger woman, she had a fling with one Rhan Ardelay. She became pregnant, but Rhan wasn’t exactly husband material, and Leah herself knew she wasn’t ready to do right by the baby. With Darien’s encouragement, she gave little Mally to a welcoming home, where the child was destined to play a rather…unusual role in Welchin affairs of state. (Welce’s politics are far too complicated to get into here; let’s just say that Mally was quite well-cared-for.) Now that things have changed in Welce (I’m being deliberately vague), can Leah finally lay claim to her daughter?
Darien is willing to help, but his help comes with a price. A delegation from the Karkades, a state about which little is known, is coming to town, and he needs someone he can trust out there gathering information on their likely motives and goals. Darien holds the key to access to Mally…but the Karkadians are dangerous, inclined to vampirism (and not the super-hot Black Dagger type of vampirism, either; the icky dead-children-bleeding-out-in-the-street type), and acting out of questionable motives. And then Chandran shows up in Welce. He knows more about the Karkadians than he’s letting on…and before he arrived, Leah was missing him more than she wanted to admit.
Oh, and there’s more! Taro Frothen, the torz prime, is getting up there in years, and the other primes are getting a bit nervous because he has yet to name his successor. Leah is related to Taro; as a world-traveler and confidant of the king-elect, will she be tapped for that role? Does she even want to be? Rhan seems to be back in the picture, sort of. Does she want him in her life? And then Mally has secrets of her own…
Shinn deftly weaves all of these plot strands together, and by the end, you may know more or less where she’s going, but it’s an enjoyable ride to get there. In particular, the relationship between Leah and the mysterious Chandran (a rarity in romance: a hero with a full, dark beard) is spicy and sweet:
For a moment she could feel him resist – try to resist – drawing his battered honor around him like dented armor. But then he swept her closer, held her tighter, kissed her with the desperate hunger of a man on the verge of drowning who had finally fought his way clear of the sea…
With a gasp he tore himself away and stood there, panting. “I am sorry,” he managed to say. “I think I am not to be trusted alone with you.”
The resolution to Leah’s, Chandran’s, and even Mally’s various dilemmas may be inevitable, but it’s also as colorful and entertaining as Shinn’s fans have come to expect. There’s only one problem. Shinn has written novels from the perspective of the coru (Zoe’s story, Troubled Waters), the elay (Zoe and Corene’s half-sister Josetta, in Royal Airs), the sweela (the aforementioned Jeweled Fire, Corene’s story), and now the torz. That means she has only one element left to go, the hunti.
Only one more Elemental Blessings book? I’ll look forward to it, even as I mourn the end of an extremely entertaining series. And in the meantime – read Unquiet Land. Welce and its environs are endlessly fascinating, and the people who live there even moreso.
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Kate Nagy opines at https://kateholdscourt.wordpress.com/