Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn Review

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Title: Troubled Waters
Author: Sharon Shinn
Publisher: Ace
Publish Date: October 5, 2010
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Pages: 391
Source: Personal Copy

Zoe Ardelay receives astonishing and unwelcome news: she has been chosen to become the king's fifth wife. Forced to go to the royal city, she manages to slip away and hide on the shores of the mighty river.

It's there that Zoe realizes she is a coru prime ruled by the elemental sign of water. She must return to the palace, not as an unwilling bride for the king, but a woman with power in her own right. But as Zoe unlocks more of the mysteries of her blood—and the secrets of the royal family—she must decide how to use her great power to rise above the deceptions and intrigue of the royal court.
Perhaps the most important part of an epic fantasy novel is the complexity and thoroughness of the world-building. Troubled Waters is the type of novel that completely excels in that department, giving readers a world that is accessible, tangible and powerful. Every element within the novel is thought out, well-crafted and offers us more than just the basics. From class divisions, to magic,  to alternate realities, Troubled Waters embraces all and somehow manages to make each part mesh together perfectly to create the type of fantasy story that you can't help but read.

Ms. Shinn, however, goes a step further and also ensures that the setting is of equal importance to the novel as the world-building. I could sense the stench of despair in the slums by the river, and I was enamored by the well-described opulence of the grand palace, as well. Zoe, our protagonist, is the reason why this story will remain with me though. She's beautifully flawed, and it's her imperfections that make her relatable and powerful. Furthermore, she had an aura of grace about her, as well as a rationale, intelligence and wit that fuels the adventurous plot.

A fantasy novel often has the ability to spin readers into the world in which its created, but Troubled Waters goes a step further, offering us glimpses of each caste, as well. I found it incredibly powerful that our characters actually fueled the plot, as well, which made them all the more valuable to the reader. With touches of political drama, as well as a thorough exploration (that manages to not be tedious) of power plays and the world of the King's court, there was simply so much going on that there never seemed to be a dull moment in the novel.

While romance seems to take center stage in many of the books I've read as of late, it was incredibly refreshing to read a story in which our protagonist is too level-headed to get swept away in the throes of passion. Yes, there is love, and there are delicate hints at a romance which serve to heighten the stakes of the story, but it's not the end-all, be-all of the novel. Rather, it's an added element which serves only to give readers a glimpse of compassion and a slow-building companionship.

Overall, I can't believe I've had this novel on my shelf for over 3 years, and I didn't pick it up. It's the type of fantasy novel that begs other such novels to pay attention to the details and give readers more of the world - and perhaps a little less drama. And, most of all, it's the type of book that I will most definitely re-read and recommend. I give this book a 5 out of 5, and I highly recommend it to fans of upper YA, especially those who enjoy strong fantasy novels


  1. Fantasy is a tricky thing -- it needs strong worldbuilding, yes, but you also have to have an intriguing setting, plot and characters. Granted, these are key components to any fabulous book but fantasy *has* to have them because the world is so different than one we know (or it should be, anyway).

  2. I reeeeeeeeeeeeally want to try this one

  3. Melissa, how have I never heard of this book before? How? I was pretty much screaming "YES!!" while reading your review. It seems to have everything that I wish for in a fantasy book. I especially adore the sound of Zoe. Flawed characters are the best and an author who actually gives equal importance to the world-building? I'm sold! Also, the romance sounds exactly like what I typically enjoy. I'm going to try to find a copy at the library.
    Great review, Melissa!

  4. I'm so, so glad you enjoyed this, Melissa! I absolutely loved it and the romance completely won me over, despite taking a pleasant backseat to the political machinations of the world. Unfortunately, I wasn't a fan of the sequel as much, which also ends on a but of cliffhanger, but this book is sheer perfection. :)


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