Jeweled Fire by Sharon Shinn fantasy book reviewsJeweled Fire by Sharon Shinn

Jeweled Fire is the third book in Sharon Shinn’s ELEMENTAL BLESSINGS fantasy series, each one of which focuses on a different young woman. Corene, a secondary character in the previous books, is a strong-willed and fiery young woman (purely sweela, or fire, for those readers who recall the elemental influences that are presumed to govern personalities in Welce), one of four princesses of Welce who were in contention for the throne. Due to events that occurred in the second book, Royal Airs, Corene is no longer a candidate to become queen of Welce. Feeling disoriented and useless, she impulsively ran away, surreptitiously accepting an invitation from Filomara, the visiting empress of Malinqua, to visit that kingdom and sailing away on Filomara’s ship with her devoted guard, Foley, and Steffanolo, the empress’ recently discovered grandson. Filomara has several marriageable nephews in contention to become the heir to her throne, as well as Steff, and Corene hopes that she can find happiness and a new purpose in life in Malinqua.

When Corene arrives in Malinqua, she meets two princesses from other countries who are also visiting the empress’ palace … and hoping as well to marry the heir to the throne, whomever he may be. The empress’ three nephews aren’t quite the catches Corene had hoped, however: the oldest nephew is crippled and can walk only a few steps, spending most of his time in a wheelchair; the second is gay; and the third is young and attractive but not very intelligent (although one of the other princesses opines that he “simply needs to marry well … Handsome, stupid men always benefit from marrying intelligent, resourceful women”). Steff would be a natural choice for heir, but he is unsophisticated and unfamiliar with Malinqua politics.

To complicate matters further, the path to the throne of Malinqua is strewn with dead candidates, mostly from many years ago, but someone may be making a move again to permanently remove some additional contenders. And once Corene is safely ensconced in the palace, under the watchful eye of the empress and innumerable guards, she begins to feel more like a hostage than a guest. Corene, who has always been fiercely independent and rather careless of the feelings of others, must learn to develop her friendship and alliances with others to avoid the potentially deadly pitfalls in the Malinqua court.

The first book in this ELEMENTAL BLESSINGS series, Troubled Waters, was a heartwarming romantic fantasy that was a pure joy to read, but its sequel, Royal Airs, missed the mark for both Kat and me. Jeweled Fire is a definite step back in the right direction for this series, although not quite as strong or satisfying as Troubled Waters. Corene’s characterization was a little inconsistent: in the first few chapters she evinced distinct rudeness and immaturity. That disappeared ― a little too quickly to be completely believable ― once she landed in Malinqua, although it was a welcome change from the self-absorbed main character that I thought I was going to be dealing with. Corene displays an unexpected talent for, and interest in, international relations and trade, and gradually realizes that it isn’t necessary for her to be a queen, either in Welce or Malinqua, for her life to matter.

Malinqua lacks the uniqueness of Welce, the setting for the first two books in this series. In Welce the idea of the five elements permeated society and played a significant role in the plot. Shinn gives a nod to a similar type of idea in Malinqua: the capital city displays a divided architecture, half built with a warm red granite and the other with white stone, representing the duality of existence: fire and ice, day and night, flesh and spirit, life and death. This is particularly evidenced in two huge towers in the city, white and red, but although it provides some color to the setting, the duality concept isn’t really explored in any deep or meaningful way. However, the two towers are the setting of some pivotal and tense moments in the plot.

ELEMENTAL BLESSINGS has been a romance-driven fantasy series, and Jeweled Fire does contain a romantic subplot, but the focus of the story is more on the political intrigue and the mystery of the deaths that occur in connection with the competition for the throne in Malinqua. That mystery isn’t particularly deep and wouldn’t support the entire plot, but its shortcomings are made up for by the strong development of interpersonal relationship among the characters. In particular, it’s always encouraging to see strong female friendships and mutual support in young adult fiction. The characters are a diverse group who manage to come together despite their racial, cultural, and sexual differences. There is also a subplot with a spy from Welce, who is charged with watching out for Corene’s safety, that provides some variety and echoes some of the themes of the main plot: feeling lost, and the importance of family ties.

Jeweled Fire is worth reading if you enjoyed Troubled Waters, even if you thought its sequel missed the mark. It’s not clear whether Jeweled Fire is the end of this series or a temporary stopping place, but I hope Sharon Shinn will write additional books in this series.

Published November 2015. The national bestselling author of Troubled Waters and Royal Airs returns to her Elemental Blessings series with the story of a young princess who will need more than blessings to survive in a kingdom where everyone will do whatever it takes to claim the throne… As one of the four princesses of Welce, Corene always thought she might one day become queen. Only circumstances changed, leaving fiery Corene with nothing to show for a life spent playing the game of court intrigue—until a chance arises to become the ruler of a nearby country. After stowing away on a ship bound for Malinqua with her loyal bodyguard, Foley, Corene must try to win the throne by making a play to marry one of the empress’s three nephews. But Corene is not the only foreign princess in search of a crown. Unaccustomed to being anyone’s friend, Corene is surprised to find companionship among her fellow competitors. But behind Malinqua’s beautiful facade lie many secrets. The visiting princesses are more hostages than guests. And as the deadly nature of the court is revealed, Corene must rely on both her new allies and Foley’s unwavering protection—for the game she has entered is far more perilous than she ever imagined…

Elemental Blessings — (2010-2016) Publisher: The author of the Twelve Hours series welcomes readers to a new fantasy world, where the elements rule. 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.

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  • Tadiana Jones

    TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.