1.30.2013

Currently Reading: The Truth Teller’s Tale

The Truth-Teller's Tale (Safe-Keepers, #2)I amused myself by trying to guess which ones were Safe-Keepers, which Truth-Tellers. The old, grim-looking woman with the hot blue eyes was clearly a Truth-Teller; all the others stayed as far from her as they could, not wanting to have their clothes critiqued or their motives examined aloud. There was a tall, heavy man who sat by himself in the corner. His face looked both watchful and sharp; I thought he could be one of those rare Truth-Tellers who kept as many secrets as he pleased. Across the room from them sat two women and a man, laughing and talking in low voices. Safe-Keepers all, I thought, for it was strange but true: Safe-Keepers, at least the ones I knew, all seemed sociable and at ease with the world, despite all the dreadful secrets they knew and must keep buried in their hearts. Truth-Tellers, who could release their burdens aloud every day, were often nasty-tempered and fierce, and many of them were friendless.

Author: Sharon Shinn

From Goodreads: Innkeeper's daughters Adele and Eleda are mirror twins—identical twins whose looks are reflections of each other's, and their special talents are like mirrors, too. Adele is a Safe-Keeper, entrusted with hearing and never revealing others' secrets; Eleda is a Truth-Teller, who cannot tell a lie when asked a direct question. The town of Merendon relies on the twins, no one more than their best friend, Roelynn Karro, whose strict, wealthy father is determined to marry her off to the prince. When the girls are seventeen, a handsome dancing-master and his apprentice come to stay at the inn, and thus begins a chain of romance, mistaken identity, and some very surprising truths and falsehoods.

Notes: After Summers at Castle Auburn, I couldn’t wait long to track down another Shinn novel. This one, recommended by George (thanks, George), came with so many fascinating concepts that I was hooked from a glance at the back cover.

The fascinating concepts include the idea of mirror-twins, who reflect each other in perfect reverse—in this case, from the palindromic names, Adele and Eleda, on down. What each sees when she looks at the other is her own mirror image and the inverse of her magical gift. Adele hears secrets, offers wisdom, but never betrays a confidence. Eleda never lies or misinforms, and her words can even be prophetic.

Eleda (naturally) narrates the story, which carries a very Shinn setup: festive, lighthearted magic, loosely medieval worldbuilding, and memorable, pronounceable names. For all my fondness for thoughtful naming practices in fantasy, it's certainly easier on the reader to discover Micahs and Gregorys and Melindas mingling with the Roelynns and Darians, with not one Lúthien Tinúviel or King Roedran Almaric do Arreloa a'Naloy in the bunch.

Like Auburn, Eleda’s world comes strikingly alive for that of a standalone novel, and it grows its heroine outside the farm-to-destiny cycle common to its genre. It’s cheerful, likable, relaxing high fantasy—the sort that can be comfortably read, like Shannon Hale’s or Diana Wynne Jones’, even by those who wouldn’t come near million-word monsters like A Song of Ice and Fire or The Wheel of Time.

More than anything else, it’s a love story—or rather, a set of love stories. As such, it’s thoroughly enjoyable, if also thoroughly simplistic about the idea that true love of the romantic type is what grows you up and forms the basis of all your happiness. The story is far from being thoughtless, however. The play of Safe-Keeper against Truth-Teller is downright insightful, and there’s some pretty symbolism around the Wintermoon celebrations especially.

The tale would be worth reading for the attention to tangible detail alone, as that’s simply beautiful in places. The scene of Eleda’s first evening out with her young man is one of the loveliest of its type I’ve ever read.

There was nothing in this story to make me regret picking it up. I’d like to re-read it. As with Summers at Castle Auburn, it’s likely to send me hunting up more of Sharon Shinn’s work.

8 comments:

  1. Great review, but then I totally love this book so of course I'd agree with your great review. :)

    The only thing I'd add is that there are some moments of darkness but that these are integral to the story and are never dwelt on per se.

    As for other Shinn books, I might start with Troubled Waters. There are one or two other books set in the same world as The Truth Teller's Tale but I haven't read those. Nor have I read some of her other fiction. As usual I need to get busy reading. :)

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    1. True; I'd mostly forgotten about the moments of darkness. They really weren't dwelt on much, unless you count Roelynn's constant philandering.

      Troubled Waters looks awesome. As for the rest, I'd probably avoid the Archangel series, just because I tend to dislike weird adaptations of Christian mythology, but practically everything else of hers looks good... and fortunately for us, she's written a lot! ;)

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    2. Yeah, the Archangel series never looked appealing. I think my wife might have read it but I don't believe she's gone back to it. Shinn's fantasy works appear to be the better bet.

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    3. My wife said the Archangel series was kind of more science fiction. She did also say she didn't think I'd like it & since you & I tend to like the same kind of books that would probably apply to you as well.

      But any of her fantasy stuff should be good. Unfortunately, according to my wife, Shinn appears to have taken up doing Urban Fantasy stuff now. Not really a sub-genre that usually appeals to me.

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    4. Great information from your wife. Thanks for passing it along. :)

      As for the details... mmph. Well, I like some urban fantasy--after all, Harry Potter technically qualifies--but not much of it.

      I'm interested to read all her fantasy stuff, though, and possibly Jenna Starborn, too, despite the mostly negative reviews. ;)

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  2. I haven't read Shinn's books for a few years, and I haven't read the Archangel series, but I do remember loving this series. For some reason, they reminded me of what L. M. Montgomery might write if she wrote fantasy--something about the focus on home and relationships and everyday life.

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    1. Yes! I could definitely see that. Beautiful and on the smaller, intimate scale. I recommend Summers at Castle Auburn, too; that one was a fascinating read.

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  3. Of course, Shinn does have a book called Jenna Starborn. ;) A retelling of Jane Eyre. Not a lot of good reviews on it, though.

    General Winston's Daughter might also be another good one of Shinn's to try out.

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