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Elemental Blessings #1

Troubled Waters

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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.

400 pages, Hardcover

First published May 10, 2010

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About the author

Sharon Shinn

56 books2,145 followers
I’ve been writing stories and poems since I was eight years old. My first poem was about Halloween: "What is tonight? What is tonight?/Try to guess and you’ll guess right." Perhaps this inauspicious beginning explains why it took me till I was in my thirties to sell a novel. It occurred to me early on that it might take some time and a lot of tries before I was able to publish any of my creative writing, so I pursued a degree in journalism at Northwestern University so I’d be able to support myself while I figured out how to write fiction.

I’ve spent most of my journalism career at three trade and association magazines—The Professional Photographer (which, as you might guess, went to studio and industrial photographers), DECOR (which went to frame shop and art gallery owners), and BizEd (which is directed at deans and professors at business schools). My longest stint, seventeen years, was at DECOR. Many people don’t know this, but I’m a CPF (Certified Picture Framer), having passed a very long, technical test to prove I understood the tenets of conservation framing. Now I write about management education and interview some really cool, really smart people from all over the world.

I mostly write my fiction in the evenings and on weekends. It requires a pretty obsessive-compulsive personality to be as prolific as I’ve been in the past ten years and hold down a full-time job. But I do manage to tear myself away from the computer now and then to do something fun. I read as often as I can, across all genres, though I’m most often holding a book that’s fantasy or romance, with the occasional western thrown in. I’m a fan of Cardinals baseball and try to be at the ballpark on opening day. If I had the time, I’d see a movie every day of my life. I love certain TV shows so much that knowing a new episode is going to air that night will make me happy all day. (I’m a huge Joss Whedon fan, but in the past I’ve given my heart to shows all over the map in terms of quality: "Knight Rider," "Remington Steele," "Blake’s 7," "Moonlighting," "The Young Riders," "Cheers," "Hill Street Blues," "X-Files," "Lost," "Battlestar Galactica"...you can probably fill in the gaps. And let’s not forget my very first loves, "The Partridge Family," "Here Come the Brides" and "Alias Smith & Jones.")

I don’t have kids, I don’t want pets, and all my plants die, so I’m really only forced to provide ongoing care for my menagerie of stuffed animals. All my friends are animal lovers, though, and someone once theorized that I keep friends as pets. I’m still trying to decide if that’s true.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 955 reviews
November 15, 2013
It's always risky for me to reread a book. As I grow older, I find that my tastes have changed, and even more so, I find myself becoming increasingly more critical of certain elements in books. I usually do not reread books, but recently, a friend asked me for YA high fantasy recommendations, and I remember enjoying this book when I first read it, 3 years ago. Thus, I decided to revisit this book, to see if it was as good as I remembered, because if I'm going to recommend it to my friend, I better make damn sure that it's a good book. It's my reputation on the line, after all.

This is one of the rare instances where the second reading turned out to be even better than the first. I am so happy to say it is even better than I remembered, even reading it from a critical standpoint, actually, particularly from a critical standpoint. This book is glorious. I do not give 1-ratings lightly, and neither do I give 5s unless I feel like a book overwhelmingly deserves it. In my humble opinion, all YA high fantasy should strive to be this good.

This book has it all, compelling, brilliantly detailed world building, a main character with weaknesses that evolve into strength, with beliefs and ideals that change along the way. The romance is light and utterly believable. There is politics, there is magic, there is court intrigue. There is friendship, there is backstabbing; the evolution of relationships, platonic and romantic, are credible. The reader is taken from the slums to the palace, from a small village to a bustling town. I truly enjoyed every moment of this book.

Summary: Zoe Ardelay is 23 years old, and her father has just died. She is prostate with grief at the death of her brilliant, loving father, the only family she has had since her mother died 11 years ago, since her father has been exiled from the royal court some 10 years ago. Zoe has barely had time to mourn before the king's right-hand man (Darien Serlast) shows up and gives her a most unexpected and unwelcome news: Zoe is to be the king's fifth wife.

I know this doesn't sound promising, I know it screams that Zoe is a special snowflake. I know you are rolling your eyes at the thought of yet another convenient parent's death. Please bear with me, and trust me when I say that this book is so much better than it initially seems.

Zoe is in shock, almost catatonic with grief from mourning. She follows Darien without comment, barely able to comprehend anything and barely capable of anything more than the simple act of existing. Once they get to the city, Zoe snaps out of it, and escapes. She is not an idiot, she has been in the city before, and she knows where to stay where she can be safe. She finds a place to settle near the banks of the Marisi river, and there, Zoe slowly awakens. She grows out of her grief, she comes to life again, and she slowly comes to realize that her father is not who he seems---as much as she loved him, he kept secret from her. One of those secrets is that she is the coru prime. The heir to her house.

Armed with this knowledge, Zoe knows she is empowered. As a prime, Zoe has more power than that of being a king's wife. We are there with her as she grows to realize the full extent of her power, to come into her inheritance and her destiny. As she navigates the treacherous waters of the royal court and the royal wives, and uncovers a mystery. Perhaps she might even find love with a man as strong-willed as she is.

What I Loved About This Book

The Setting: Wonderfully imaginative. Simple, but absolutely compelling. You know how numerology plays a large role in some countries, like the Asian countries. Certain numbers are good luck, certain numbers are avoided for their negative association...the world of this book works similarly, only it is influenced by the number 5. More on this in a bit. Five: keep that number in mind.

All the elements in this book (pun intended) mesh together so well. This is set in an alternate universe, with light elements of magic. Not everyone possesses magic, only a select few, the heirs (primes) of each of the five major houses within the country of Welce. There are five major families which have the majority of power and influence within the royal circle, without being directly royal themselves. They are the Ardelays, the Dochenzas, the Serlasts, the Frothens, the Lalindars. Zoe herself is the result of an union between two of the major houses, the Ardelays and the Lalindars.

This world is ruled by the belief of five elements in the body and soul, which corresponds to each of the five families, which corresponds to five seasons of the year. I absolutely loved this and how well-created this system turned out to be. There is no glossary, but the world is so well-explained that one is not needed, and for the curious, there is a chart and a brief explanation of the elements and the year located at the very beginning and at the end of the book. Simply put, there are five elements (and blessings), coru (water/blood), elay (air/soul), hunti (wood/bone), sweela (fire/mind), torz (earth/flesh). This elemental blessing system is incorporated into every aspect of the story, and it is so incredibly well crafted. From the birth of a child and the selection of blessings, to the explanation of traditions within the country, to someone's personality, to the incorporation of magical elements, this world is absolutely consistent. My mind boggles.

The year itself is still composed of 365 days, but organized differently, again---according to the five elements. There are five seasons (quintiles), each lasting for eight ninedays, with one Changeday (a holiday, and a major celebration) at the end/beginning of each quintile.

The setting itself is lovely and well-described, from the slums by the river to the spectacular palace itself. I never tire of the world in which this book is set.

The Characters: Zoe Ardelay is awesome. She is not perfect, there were moments I lost patience with her, but altogether, she proved to be a most satisfactory heroine. Zoe is weak at the beginning, although that is somewhat understandable due to her grief. She also has a tendency to run away when times get rough, due to a lack of patience with others, not because she is an ostrich with her head stuck in the sand. Zoe is brave, she is not perfect, she doesn't understand the extent of her power sometimes, she loses control of her own power at others, but she is never malicious, never evil. I loved seeing Zoe come into the power which she has inherited, and I enjoyed seeing her learn to play her part as a prime, as a court woman, as a woman with power and strength and wealth in her own right.

I grieved with her when her beloved, intelligent, loving father died. I felt for her when she came to realize--like most of us eventually do, that parents are not perfect. They are human, they are flawed. The more Zoe comes to know her father and his deeds, the angrier she becomes, as she feels betrayed...but her feelings are so understandable and relatable. Zoe is reasonable, rational, intelligent. And for that, I loved her.
“If he was alive, I might have abandoned him at this point, tired of one too many betrayals,” she said. “But I do not have that luxury now. I must understand him and accept him, or lose even my memories of him. And I am not prepared to do that—not now. Not yet. Perhaps not ever.”
The other characters in the book are equally well-crafted. Great care is given to all the side characters, and I enjoyed them all. Nobody is purely evil. Someone we start out distrusting, disliking, someone who is initially standoffish, cold, distant, may prove to become a friend along the line. There is a great attention to detail in everything in this novel, from the setting to the characters, no matter how small, and I truly appreciate that.

The Plot: Always kept me engrossed. The story moves around a lot, and it gives us an opportunity to learn more with every setting we come across. We come to know new characters, new things, new intrigues, new mysteries with every setting. It is always a learning experience, and a pleasant one. The characters themselves comtribute so much to the plot that they become part of it. This book always keeps me entertained.

I absolutely loved the court intrigue. I do not enjoy an overwhelmingly political book, and this book has just enough politics and power play to keep me interested without losing my attention. I particularly enjoyed the royal court with the king's four wives. This world is not polygamous, only the king is allowed to have more than one wife, and as always, with more than one woman in power, there is always an interesting power play (and cattiness) to keep me entertained. There's light intrigue, a mystery that does not overwhelm Zoe's story, and throughout all of it, Zoe always has a role in which to participate.

The Romance: Light, enjoyable, and completely believable. For much of the book, Zoe doesn't even think about romance, about having her own family, about love, about marriage. FUCK YEAH.


Sorry, I just get a wee bit excited when a female character is rational and consistent and content in her own self without the need or reliance on a man like that.

Zoe's love story is so gradual, one hardly notices it. It starts with distrust, grows into a reluctant alliance, then friendship. Love eventually comes into the equation, but it is not the centerpoint of the book by any means.



Zoe and her love interest are so good together. They are both such strong personalities, and I loved them for it. They are both stubborn, unyielding in their own way, and through their contrast, they find their similarity. Opposites attract.
Coru woman, who could not be contained. Hunti man, who could not be moved.
There is no mind games. There is no petty jealousy. There is friendship, alliance, trust, love. They find strength in each other, in their opposing personalities.
“There is nothing but heartache for a coru woman and a hunti man,” she said, deliberately contrary. “He cannot control her and she cannot change him.”
“He never fails her and she always moves him,” [he] corrected. “She can trust his strength, and he can be lifted by her joy.”
Altogether, a fantastic book. Highly recommended for all ages. This is classified as YA, but the characters are adult, however, there is nothing in this book that would offend anyone older than 12. I will enjoy this book when I reread it at 90.
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
November 23, 2019
Troubled Waters is a really lovely high fantasy novel; I liked it almost as much as my favorite (so far) Sharon Shinn book, Summers at Castle Auburn. Zoe is the daughter of a once-powerful man in the kingdom of Welce, who lived in hiding in a small village for ten years after falling from the king's favor. As the story begins, Zoe's father has just died, and the king's closest advisor, Darien Serlast, swoops into town with the surprise announcement that Zoe has been chosen to be the king's fifth wife. Yay?

Zoe, numb with grief and shock, allows Darien to take her to the capital city, but as soon as they arrive there she slips away from him at an opportune moment and goes into hiding once again. But life, of course, has more in store for Zoe, and she and the royal court ― and Darien ― aren't done with each other yet. And magic is, quite literally, waiting to manifest in Zoe's blood.

There are five powerful families in the kingdom, each gifted with a particular affinity to one of the five elements: air (soul), fire (mind), water (blood), earth (flesh), and wood (bone). The leader of each family, the prime, is gifted with extraordinary gifts and powers relating to their element. Zoe soon discovers she is the coru, or water/blood, prime, since her grandmother died several years ago. (Not a spoiler; this is in the book's blurb.)

It was interesting to read about a society tied so closely to the idea of the elements and their powers. Most people in this society doesn't have magical powers; it's mostly just the five primes and to a lesser extent their heirs. But everyone in Welce carries traits of one of these elements, sometimes with an aspect of another element as a secondary part of their personality, kind of like how we sometimes categorize people's personalities in our society by color. In Wence this is woven into the core of their culture.

description + description

The story contains a heartwarming romance that develops slowly and believably, but doesn't ever take over the plot to the exclusion of everything else.
She could not resist leaning into him just a little, just to feel his reassuring strength against her shoulder. "But that is my point exactly," she said. "Who I am now and who I seemed to be then are two very different people."

"Not so different that I cannot recognize you," he said. "No matter how much you change, you will always be familiar to me."
There's also quite a bit of intriguing and conniving once Zoe takes her place in high society. Most of all, this is a coming-of-age story ― even though Zoe is already about 23 years old as the story begins ― as she gradually discovers who she is as a person, and what she wants from life.

Very highly recommended for those who enjoy romantic fantasy that's on the quieter side, and maybe even for those who don't normally read fantasy but appreciate well-told tales.
Profile Image for Melindam.
612 reviews268 followers
March 24, 2023
If you are looking for bloody wars on immense scales with mythical creatures of the apocalypse, sword fights, violent deaths, foul conspiracy, fast pacing - this may not be the book for you to read. But if you are open to something different, you may end up enjoying this novel.

I decided to give it a try upon reading the superb review of Tadiana and I am happy to say I was not disappointed at all. I just loved reading it & now consider it as one of my favourites of the Fantasy genre.

Background story:
The society of the Kingdom of Welce is built around the balance of the five natural elements with related character traits & blessings: water (blood), fire (mind), air (soul), earth (flesh), wood (bone) & people’s resonance to one of them.

Besides the King, the country is ruled by five great families with a particular affinity to one of the elements, especially embodied in the heads (Primes) of the families: water (“coru”) - Family Lalindar, air (“eelay”) - Family Dochenza, fire (“sweela”) -Family Ardelay, earth (“torz”) – Family Frothen , wood (“hunti”) – Family Serlast.

The story is about Zoe Ardelay-Lalindar, how, instead of marrying the King as his 5th wife, she comes into power as the new Prime of the Lalindar (her mother’s) family, how she is growing into her role and how she navigates the troubled waters of high society & court intrigue.

Things I loved:
- Sharon Shinn managed to “create” a story that flows simply & naturally without great fuss, pointless grandiosity & forced BIG revelations. Every detail seems to be in its place & fits naturally into the greater picture. She did indeed achieve BALANCE.
- The concept of the world building is based on the 5 elements & loosely on numerology. The author builds up her world slowly, but surely, with lovely, interesting & intriguing details of geography, religion, politics, social customs without being over- or underwhelming.
- The magic, if it can be called magic at all, is understated. It is more like natural powers coming to characters, in-synch with their intrinsic elements, with greater power being concentrated in the Primes of the 5 houses. It is an important feature, but not the actual drive behind the story.
- The heroine, Zoe: she is not your typical kickass one (not that I have anything against them in general), but still has a solid inner strength to her in perfect harmony with her natural element (water) that is very appealing.
She IS actually lovely, likeable & easy to relate to. She is not perfect & has no false humility about herself either. And that, my Fellow-Readers, is no mean feat considering how many authors seem to miss the point entirely by creating these „oh-so-very-speshul snowflakes” whose specialness lies in being insufferable („oh, please don’ tell me I am special, for I know I am not, though everyone else keeps telling me I AM”), spoiling the whole reading process, even if the story is a good one.
It is also a refreshing change that Zoe – upon learning that she is heir to her Coru grandmother & Prime of the Lalindar family – instead of denial and running away from her fate in the usual fashion of „chosen ones” of most fantasy novels, actually takes to her role like a duck is taking to water (pun intended), flowing into & filling in the space she needs to occupy naturally without any needless rumpus.
- The characters in general: main as well as secondary characters are well drawn. There is no black & white characterisation.
- The love affair is also understated: part of the story, without events having to evolve around it all the time. There are no earthquakes, fireworks all screaming: „HE/SHE is the ONE!!!” It is still believable how the 2 characters are influencing / are slowly being drawn to each other without the author having to hit us on the head every other page with how much they are in love, describing every move / look / facial expression / thought / feeling in excruciating detail.

Be warned (again) that the story takes its own sweet time to gather real monentum, so if you want a quick action-fix, choose something else.
Profile Image for Felicia.
Author 28 books128k followers
November 19, 2010
I just wrote a great review of this and Goodreads ate it. GODDAMNIT!

Ok, let me try to duplicate. SOo, I really like this author's other books, but this one I kinda enjoyed but also didn't, especially as it progressed to the end.

First, let me say, I have a weird attraction to books with worldbuilding that brands people at birth with personality attributes. I know it goes against my whole independent philosophy, but if I can identify myself as a "Hufflepuff" or a "Green Ajah" or, like here, a Firey "sweela" I'm usually like, "SIGN ME UP!" Problem is, in this book, people refer to it SO MUCH, their elemental heritage, that there's almost nothing else to them. It got a bit annoying.

ALSO, double ID whammy, you get three "blessings" at birth pulled from a barrel, like "power", "love", "time", "beauty" etc. that FURTHER define your life. And if you're in doubt, go pull something out of the barrel and the word will tell you what to do. People in this world live WITH NO DOUBT WHATSOEVER. It got seriously confining after a while!

Ok, that's that. So, the plot...meandered. I wanted to slap the main character a lot. Her family situation was interesting, but her actions were lethargic, at best. And then, ALL OF THE SUDDEN towards the end, she starts doing something INSANE and then NO ONE PUNISHES HER. Like, they should totally kill her, she acts like a psycho, and she GETS HER WAY. It's so weird to me! PLUS, she has all this insane power, but none of the other powerful "Primes" step forward to help her manage her powers at all. They just string her out. No wonder she acts like a crazy terrorist at the end, which has no real repercussions, so it was fine all along. Grr.
And I didn't get the main love interest, he was ok, but he didn't display a lot of redeeming qualities except maybe stalking.

Bottom Line: I'll probably read the next one. But I might rant about that one too, haha.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Charlotte Kersten.
Author 3 books430 followers
February 7, 2022
“He never fails her and she always moves him,” Darien corrected. “She can trust his strength, and he can be lifted by her joy.”

So What’s It About?

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.

What I Thought

This was my selection for the comfort read square for f/fantasy bingo, and I was certainly right on that count. This book is generally extremely cozy and pleasant - most characters are super kind and friendly; there are many (maybe too many) mentions of going shopping and eating candy; even Zoe’s stint of homelessness is enjoyable and low-stakes for her.

There is a very sweet and understated romance with Darien (who is almost always referred to by his full name for some reason) wherein he and Zoe learn to trust each other and challenge each other to be better. The one thing that gets kind of tiresome is that Darien keeps a ton of secrets from Zoe and parcels them out bit by bit to her frustration, and this causes many arguments between them.

The system of magic is pretty cool, featuring powerful family heads called primes and blessing characteristics/traits belonging to each natural element. My favorite part of the world-building is how well Shinn considered the manner in which blessings would impact people’s everyday lives - their stereotypes, their choices, how they relate to the world and make sense of themselves.

My favorite thing about was Zoe’s relationship with the princess who she discovers to be her half-sister Joestta - it was so sweet seeing them bond and seeing anxious, timid Josetta get a little bolder. Speaking of bold, it’s pretty baller that Zoe basically destroyed an entire palace and caused a flood to protect the other princess, Corene, from marrying a pedophile because of the king’s bad judgement (I feel justified in calling it baller because she made sure that no one drowned - there was just property damage).

Overall, all of the royal secrets and mysteries came together very satisfyingly and this was just a super pleasant read. It might suffer a bit from being too pleasant, if that makes sense - I guess it feels a bit too safe and tame for my standards. But you know what? There’s nothing wrong with an entirely NICE read now and again!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for oliviasbooks.
772 reviews512 followers
December 14, 2011
Although I liked Archangel, I believe Troubled Waters has been the last Sharon Shinn novel for me. At the moment new authors sprout out of the ground like grass - or nettles - so it relieves me a great deal to cross one off my observation list. I know that this decision is probably a harsh one after just one and a half tries, especially since Troubled Waters is not a bad story.

There is nothing blatantly wrong with the writing or the characters or the setting. Really. It is rather the other way around: The heroine is a kind of smooth uebergirl. Zoe calmy mourns her father, she levelly decides on the right things, she does this at the right time (the reader should not try to look into her head - it is a useless endeavor) and does that correctly and smiles benignly. Her actions, like the actions of the other inhabitants of this fantasy world are solely determined by her biologically given character set (she is coru, which means "water and blood", which results in both an affinity - also the means elemental manipulation - to real water and in the walter-like urge to wander, to go with the flow ecetera) and by the three random blessings bestowed on her at birth by three strangers: Beauty, Love and Power. The constant reminder of who was supposed to act so and so because he or she was wood or stone or air or fire left little room for letting characters just be themselves.

Apart from that I had the feeling that during the first 160 pages not much had really happened - although that is objectively seen not true: Zoe's father dies. On the next day she is fetched by a messenger of the king. She is driven across country in a kind a steampunk-camper. She flees the vehicle, she settles among the homeless although she has plenty of gold sewn into her shawl. She quickly acquires lovely friends and a fulfilling job and draws the random blessing of change at a temple ... which certainly changes her life once more in a major kind of way, which - again - felt completely eventless/unimportant to me. The plot did have notable turning points, but no drive, no compelling force.

If I had not encountered some specimen of excellently captivating fantasy fiction recently I would have said high fantasy and I should just go our separate ways for a while. As it is I just kick the book out. Shoo ...

Teccc, do you want to give the paperback a new home?

Profile Image for Jacob Proffitt.
2,901 reviews1,508 followers
November 11, 2019
Listened to this one with my daughter on our shared commute. It was a great re-read and sharing it with her was a great deal of fun. I particularly enjoyed that sense of awe as the blessing structure reveals itself during the story and how well-integrated that dynamic is in the society and people. Shinn's worldbuilding is second to none and it was great to relearn that this time around. Also, on a reread, I had lots of leisure to do the math* on the calendar and find that, once again, Shinn's creativity is outstanding in small details, too.

Not that the worldbuilding is really the draw. Zoe is a great character and the plot flows naturally from the interaction of her personality with those surrounding her. I was drawn immediately to her as she re-enters a society that had banished her (well, her father). I loved seeing her explore, find her bearings, and remain herself as she decides what to support and what to ignore. I loved seeing her build real relationships amid the scheming and her steady good sense despite chaos and upset. I also noticed this time around how the plot flows very much like the river at the heart of this kingdom/capital city, mirroring the central image of Zoe as a woman of water. I don't know if that was deliberate, but given that it's by Sharon Shinn, I find it likely.

Anyway, this remains a solid five stars and I'm glad I got to re-experience it with my daughter. Such a fun story to share.

A note about Chaste: The romance in this story is understated, but very fun. Seeing such very different people come to respect and connect with each other is a large part of the draw for me, but Zoe going through so much disruption means they didn't have time for any shenanigans. So this is very chaste with only a kiss or two.

* Shinn's calendar math: Dividing the year into five quintiles and having nine-days instead of weeks gives you a very even calendar with each quintile being 73 days—or eight nine-days with a "change-day" left over. So the calendar would actually fit current-day Earth and a great deal cleaner than our weird months/quarters/weeks.
Profile Image for sraxe.
394 reviews379 followers
October 3, 2015
The book was slow. There was so much time spent on what was of little value and it just had me getting frustrated and hoping the author would just get on with the story.

The story might have been interesting, but I didn't at all like either of the two main protagonists.

Zoe. I think I would have been able to understand her walking away from Darien in the beginning were any sort of reasoning provided. There was no inclination from her about it one way or another. She literally just gets up and walks away and, for quite some time, I was just bewildered as to what caused it. Also, the things Zoe does with her power...she just never considers the consequences of what it'll do. She just impulsively uses it and then feels no remorse for her actions afterwards. Sure, she helped a little in the aftermath...but it was hardly enough to make up for what she caused. Also, with the scale of what she did, and how quickly it happened, I'm positive people would have died, but none are mentioned to have.

Darien, too. I didn't like him at all. He had/has far too many secrets and, whenever Zoe discovered any one of them, he always turned it around on her. She would start to question him about it and give him plenty of openings to come clean, but he never, ever did. She always had to be the one to uncover every single secret and confront him with it, literally prying it out of him, only to have him tell his sob story and have her feel guilty for adding to his "burden." Sorry, but if you've been lying through your teeth to me since the moment we met, I'm not very inclined to feel sympathy for your cause. That made me dislike her, too, because she pretty much let him walk all over her.

He claims to love a woman he's never willingly been honest with. The promise just annoyed me more because of how dishonest he was throughout the entire book -- literally right up until the last couple of pages!
Profile Image for Veronica .
744 reviews178 followers
September 21, 2017
This is what I would call a fantasy lite story and, as such, is an easily accessible tale for those who may usually shy away from fantasy stories, believing them to be too dense and foreign-feeling to make for non-stressful reading. This is the story of how 23 year old Zoe Ardelay grows out from under the shadow of her larger-than-life father - whom she joined in banishment from the royal court some ten years earlier.

It's a nice story, easily processed and digested, and Zoe makes for a likable main character. There is a small romance angle at work but if romance is your bread and butter, look elsewhere. The romance here is presented in drips and drabs (I actually would've liked a little more) so there is no danger of it overwhelming the rest of the story. If action is your thing, again, look elsewhere because this is more of a late-bloomer story...with an emphasis on how Zoe moves through her new circumstances.

I would have liked a deeper dive into the world of the Five Families and their Primes. As it is, it feels like the story skimmed over and just hit the highlights. See what I mean about fantasy lite? But it was an enjoyable story for all that and I'm curious to see how subsequent books go since it looks like each one will showcase a different character.
Profile Image for Katie.
2,647 reviews143 followers
April 11, 2018
Audiobook re-read April 2018

This is probably my favorite book.

Audiobook re-read February 2017

Comfort read. <3

Audiobook re-read October 2015

I love this book sooooooo much.

Re-read January 2015

Still love this a lot, although this time I think the rest of the book worked better for me than the ending!

And I got my sequel! (That I just started last night.) Oooh, and GoodReads is listing a third book. Yes!

Original review

Ahhhhh. This one of those books where it took me forever to get through the first half and then I didn't want to put it down! Zoe's an awesome character. And the romance ends up being lovely and wonderful! The world is really interesting and refreshing.

And I would really love a companion novel to this? I don't think I want a direct sequel, but I'm very interested in finding out what happens to some characters.
Profile Image for Beth.
1,138 reviews110 followers
February 26, 2020
February 2020: Practically perfect in every way. It takes its time - it is perfectly focused - it builds beautifully - it is quietly epic.

September 2016: This is such a cozy sweater of a book. It's slow and intricate, and warm, and (before I get too tangled in this metaphor) quietly surprising. Sharon Shinn can build beautiful worlds and populate them with original, interesting people, and she's at her best right here.
Profile Image for Carol (StarAngel's Reviews) Allen.
1,683 reviews593 followers
October 9, 2015
3.5 Blessing Stars

This was a pretty decent book but I found myself getting to caught up in figuring which blessing belonged to which house and what personality really meant - whether it was blood, or water, or air...etc.

I also would have liked the story to revolve a bit more around Darien... xo
Profile Image for  Simply Sam ツ.
568 reviews77 followers
February 23, 2016
While this is not quite a "OMG I'm in LOVE!!!" 5 star book for me it came pretty close to being at least a "loved it" 5 star-er. However, in the end, sadly, I went with 4 stars because it was just missing that spark that would have pushed it from good to brilliant. You know, that spark, that connection, that emotional bond you feel when reading something you find truly fantastic. I'd hoped I'd find it somewhere in these pages. In fact when I started this one I felt sure that I would but it just wasn't in there for me. Don't get me wrong: this is a really good book. If you like light fantasy with a romantic component give it a try at least. You may find that elusive spark I missed.

To begin with, it has most elements I look for when reading a fantasy romance, from a smart, self-sufficient heroine to a stoic, brooding leading man to an interesting and well-developed quasi magical system (in this case people being linked to certain elements and those traits reflected in their character.) The romance itself took a backseat to the actual plot which is another aspect I appreciated. There was also an interesting cast of secondary characters, some more developed than others and some I'd like to learn more about. My hope is a few of these will be found in future books of this series. Now the plot, it was a little murky. I wasn't quite sure what the author hoped to accomplish. I felt the story just meandered at times, and there are moments I thought our MC acted too rashly and impulsively. She seemed not to take her power seriously just as she seemed not to care how her actions affected others. Honestly, there were times it bordered ridiculous and selfish. Then again, maybe that is just her coru nature.

However, even then, the story was crafted well enough to hold my attention, which is a feat unto itself these days, and the writing was really very good. I was engrossed in every page, and I was sad when the story finally came to end. That's really all there is to it. I enjoyed almost every minute of the book and those small parts I didn't enjoy as much didn't do much to negate my opinion.

I have only read one other book by Ms. Shinn but I can assure you, this will not be my last.

UPDATE:After taking the night to think about this more, and in fact sitting here at work still thinking about it, I'm going to have to revise my immediate assessment. Yes, I still liked the book, but the more I thought about it, the more Zoe's crazy actions bothered me. I'm going to leave the star rating alone but I'm mentally bumping this down to 3.5 stars.
Profile Image for Keertana.
1,126 reviews2,161 followers
February 16, 2014
It takes only one line of a Sharon Shinn novel to hook me. Ever since reading Archangel earlier last year, I've known that Shinn was an author I'd be re-visiting; an author whose backlog I'd be pouring through dutifully and savoring as the years pased by. While I enjoyed Archangel immensely, the distasteful covers of the entire Samaria Series prevented me from picking them off the shelves of my library. A shameful excuse, I know. Shinn, and the genre of Adult Fantasy, in fact, had dropped off my radar until the release of Shinn's latest novel, Royal Airs. With its bright, friendly cover, I immediately wanted to dive into it. If only I had known that I would fall in love with its predecessor, Troubled Waters, perhaps I might have requested it from my library sooner.

Troubled Waters begins with the death of Zoe's father and the consequent arrival of transportation from the palace where the king has demanded that Zoe become his fifth wife. Zoe, now an orphan, leaves without complaint, too shocked with grief to protest. Nearing the palace, however, Zoe runs away, escaping her fate as the fifth wife of an older king, and finding her true place in the world. In Shinn's universe, newborn infants are given three blessings at birth. Normally, their blessings align with the element they will come to identify with; water, air, wood, earth, and fire. While Troubled Waters lacks a distinct plot line, meandering through politics, action, and self-discovery, it chronicles Zoe's adventures in finding the three blessings she was originally given during her birth: beauty, power, and love.

The world of Elemental Blessings is one of those few fantasy realms I wouldn't hesitate to live in. Admittedly, the palace politics is a messy affair, but the traditions of this world have charmed me. From the serene actions of selecting blessings and using them as guidance to the representations that elements hold over an individual's soul, Shinn's world is richly developed and impossible to walk away from. Its hold over my both my brain and my heart is astounding, but ultimately unsurprising. After all, this is a realm where elemental magic rules side-by-side with innovations from the time period of the Industrial Revolution. Even beyond the world-building, however, it is Shinn's characters which force her novels to transcend the boundaries of their genre. All of her characters, even those which originally seem insignificant, are artfully developed and explored, their flaws brought to light right alongside their strengths as they enhance the scope of the story.

Was her existence so empty of meaning that any opportunity, however remote, suddenly lent it contour and substance, no matter how imaginary? She had no desire to be a tradesman's wife. She wasn't even sure what desires she did possess; her future still looked blank to her when she tried to peer into its shadowy corridors. 

Zoe, our protagonist and narrator, is a heroine I was rapidly able to get behind. When we first meet her, she is grieving her father, the man who raised her after her mother passed away and whose vivacity and intelligence fueled Zoe's own quick mind. As such, it isn't difficult to sympathize with Zoe and the pain she feels upon being jostled into a vehicle, transporting her away from her former life and the body of her father. While Zoe gradually heals and moves on from her loss, however, her true personality begins to seep through. Zoe is clever, able to hold her own against the scheming wives of the king; fierce, determined to survive despite the odds against her; stubborn, refusing to yield her independence to anyone; and flawed, too. As her blessings foretold, Zoe comes into power, rather unexpectedly, but wielding that power is a challenging task. Even when Zoe utilizes her power without noble intentions, though, she remains a morally strong woman. 

The world of Elemental Blessings places women in positions of power - almost as often as it raises men into these holdings - and, moreover, features LGBT characters. Troubled Waters manages to be both diverse and feminist, empowering Zoe as a heroine while introducing individuals from opposing societal hierarchies, sexual preferences, and parts of the world. Nevertheless, despite these favorable points, Troubled Waters truly won me over in terms of its romance. First and foremost, it is a slow-burn romance which, as we all know by now, is my favorite. I relished the gradual simmer of this love story and, by the end, my cheek bones ached from smiling for so long. Yet, what sets this romance apart from most is the fact that it is just as volatile as it is caring. Zoe and her love interest bicker all the time about politics, the state of the kingdom, or Zoe's abilities. It's a constant back-and-forth of either interrogation or defense, which may seem odd, but manages to work perfectly for these two strong-willed characters. Especially as, when all is said and done, they still care deeply for one another.

"That's because there is a natural contrariness to you that seems to have been designed specifically to drive me mad," Darien replied. 
She laughed out loud. "Oh, no, I don't think of you at all when I am trying to determine my next course of behavior." 
He smiled in return. "I find that I do not believe you," he replied. "I am convinced you think of me a great deal of the time." 
It annoyed her that this was true, so she snapped, "Only when I'm feeling spiteful." 
His smile widened. "As I said. For I am certain you are feeling spiteful more days than not." 
He made her want to laugh; he made her want to scowl and stomp from the room. Instead, she threw her hands in the air and shook her head and did not reply. 

Admittedly, Troubled Waters may not live up to the mark of truly classic fantasy fiction, but it is vividly memorable, its characters wildly entertaining, and their journeys - both physical and psychological - will sweep you off your feet. I, for one, will certainly be re-reading Troubled Waters whenever I'm in the mood for brilliant, resilient characters who are determined to find themselves, despite the turmoil around them. (Not to mention the utterly swoon-worthy romance!) 
Profile Image for Gillian.
458 reviews1,069 followers
April 19, 2017
4.5 stars

Okay so Sharon Shinn is MAGIC and I was fully not prepared for this book at all. It's such a slow build, starting off mild and muffled and then as Zoe, our mild muffled protagonist, slowly discovers herself, so do we, and then it's like...GAH. If i wanted to get all nit picky I could about the pacing and certain plot elements, but my feels totally override them. I adore the world in this book. It's one of my favorite fantasy religions ever, and I loved the way it informed every aspect of the society of Welce. And the characters! Again, such a slow build, but so so so worth it. More coherent review to come, but here are the key elements you should know about so you can decide wether or not to read this (the answer is YES, obviously)

--heroines who are so much more than they appear (and are really actually wonderfully scary, Zoe, you BAMF)
--Darien Serlast
-shhhiiiiiiip between two brilliant, fierce, strong, immensely complex people. For a world that's all about categorizing people by their inherent element affinities, I found the two leads to be completely actualized characters with so many layers and contradictions. And I just ADORED how the two of them clashed and met and trusted and distrusted and respected one another. BE STILL MY SWEELA HEART.
--such wonderful and unique worldbuilding. This ain't just another medieval fantasy, and seriously, I want a swimming pool like Sarone's. I would live in Chialto so fast.
--not an action-packed plot, but I was never bored, and the further along i got, the more invested i became. I read the last 200 pages in one sitting going OMG OMG
--the side characters are PRECIOUS

Sharon Shinn is a forever favorite now. After loving Summers at Castle Auburn--which will always be my most beloved of her books, but this is a close second--I was nervous that my next Shinn foray wouldn't live up to it, but oh, it SO did. Sososo did.
Profile Image for Krystle.
880 reviews337 followers
July 20, 2018
If you want high octane action with amazing clashes of magic, warring kingdoms, and epic landscapes than this is not the right fit for that description but what this book has is quality. Troubled Waters is a quiet fantasy book focused on a character who is trying to figure out her place in the world but also grow into her own skin and find her voice.

There is magic and court politics and scheming but they all have the right balance. Romance even finds its way into the pages. Instead of the rapid fire, all consuming passion most books these days showcase this is more of the slow burn and gradual build up which makes the pay off all that more worthwhile.

This is the first time I've read Sharon Shinn's writing and I think I'm more open to reading anything she's done. Excellent.
Profile Image for Anna.
235 reviews95 followers
September 28, 2021
A fascinating world, lovable and multilayered characters, beautiful writing. If I could, I'd give it more than 5 stars.

“There is nothing but heartache for a coru woman and a hunti man,” she said, deliberately contrary. “He cannot control her and she cannot change him.”
“He never fails her and she always moves him,” Darien corrected. “She can trust his strength, and he can be lifted by her joy.”
Profile Image for Alexa.
2,118 reviews11.1k followers
September 27, 2016
4.75 stars. It started off a bit slow for me, and to be fair, this is not exactly what I expected. And yet, I quite enjoyed it! It was an interesting elemental system, a pretty compelling plot of court intrigues and all centered around a girl who is coming into her own abilities and person. Definitely would continue reading this series!
Profile Image for booksnpenguins (wingspan matters).
708 reviews1,967 followers
October 9, 2019
Sadly DNF-ing this.
I'm not feeling it right now so I'm gonna put it on hold until I'm in the mood for it again.
It's not a bad book at all, but it's not what I need in this moment and I can't get into it properly.
Until the time to finally read it comes,
Dear book,


This one was highly recommended to me by two very convincing GR friends so here I am, giving this a chance and hoping with all my heart that it will get me back into reading and enjoying fantasy again!
Profile Image for Lizzy.
305 reviews166 followers
February 6, 2017
I just re-read Sharon Shinn’s Troubled Waters and I loved it all over again. It has it all, a fascinating, cleverly conceived world building, with a protagonist that is always evolving, with beliefs and ideals with no aim to perfection. A story where there is just a light romance, and that secondary to the story, is utterly believable. There are court life and its power struggles. Not only friendship and reunions, but there are antagonisms and mistrusts. There is slow and credible simmering romance.

Shinn is wonderful when imaging a fantasy world. In Welce, simply put, there are five elements and blessings: coru (water/ blood), elay (air/ soul), hunti (wood/ bone), sweela (fire/mind), and torz (earth/flesh). This elemental blessing system is incorporated into every aspect of the story, and it is incredibly well devised. From a child’s birth and the initial selection of blessings, to the way it seems to influence or reflect everyone’s personalities, to the incorporation of magical elements, this world is persistently believable.

I loved Chialto, Welce’s capital by the Marisi River with its riverfront; its two Plazas, of Men and of Women, shaping the two halves of the city’s soul. The promise booth, where anyone could swear before witnesses to do anything by a certain in any specific way; and the blind seers, who knew everything about everyone who lived in Chialto, available to anyone that could pay with gold or with information.

It captured me from the first pages. Zoe Arderlay is not a typical heroine or even ease to like. We meet her when her father has just died, once one of the more prominent men in court and exiled to a small village for ten years after falling from the king's favor. Darien Serlast arrives in town with the announcement that Zoe has been chosen as the king's fifth wife (only the king can have more than one wife, by the way). Zoe is a lost 23 years girl, numb with grief and shock she allows Darien to take her to the capital city, once there at a suitable juncture she slips away. However life, of course, has more in store for Zoe.

As a 'coru' woman she is drawn towards the water, and the river is particularly alluring, and she seems to be drawn towards her own blessings: beauty, love and power. Thus, for a while she recovers from her grief by the river, but soon she is thrust into a new role.

I enjoyed seeing Zoe and Darien’s relationship evolve, the constant quarreling from the state of the realm to their own affection and their differences. I thought it worked very well for these two strong-willed personalities. But the important thing is that ultimately they loved each other.

Anyway, the story moves around a lot, and it gives us an opportunity to learn more with every setting we happen across. We come to know great secondary characters (I loved Calvin and Annova!), and I enjoyed them all, besides the new intrigues, new mysteries with every setting. It is always a learning experience and a delightful one.

As I read another lovely fantasy story recently, and so while reading Troubled Waters I was constantly reminded of The Curse of Chalion. Although they are distinct in their world creation and staging, they have some relevant circumstances in common. Action plays a back role in both, even more in Troubled Waters, while romance takes in both cases a backdrop in their respective plots. Shinn’s original context unfolds as well in a royal court where struggles for power are intrinsic to its existence; magic exists in both, if somewhat less here. There are two major differences, however. First, I can say that religion is foremost in The Course of Chalion, substituted in Shinn’s world by a more ephemeral belief in blessings (where humanity is fairly in control of its destiny). Second, I found Troubled Waters a more superficial novel to read and enjoy, while Bujold’s novel requires more effort and presents us deeper questionings. I hope I'm not fanciful or judgemental, but they appeared to be different in what they pretend to achieve. With this comment, I'm not in any way inferring that one is better than the other, for I loved both in different ways.

Finally, Troubled Waters is a surprisingly entertaining read, as Sharon Shinn welcomes readers to a new fantasy world that is visibly memorable in each detail. I highly recommend it for lovers of fantasy.
Profile Image for Pamela J. (Fantasy Book Nook) .
20 reviews23 followers
July 7, 2016
Review: This author was brought to my attention after reading Sarah J. Maas’s most recent newsletter where she named Shinn as one of her favorite authors. I’ll admit, this was compelling, as everything Sarah J. Maas writes is literally gold. Shinn has multiple series, and I most aligned with the premise for this one.

The verdict? Mixed.

I like the storyline, the world building is unique and the premise is interesting. It’s a world filled with magical powers related to the elements, which isn’t anything new. But, it’s also a world that believes random blessings such as grace, resilience, intelligence, wealth, etc. guide your destiny and I found this intriguing. Each of the elements (air, water, wood, earth, and fire) has a ‘prime’- the person of that particular element who wields its power. The prime is able to name their heir and when they die their powers are passed on to them. Unbeknownst to Zoe, she was chosen as prime by her grandmother because she was given the random blessing of ‘power’ when she was born. It was an apt blessing and there are several impressive feats in which Zoe uses her element, water.

Despite being labeled ‘romantic fantasy’ the main focus of this was not the romantic relationship. A lot of time was spent on friendships and devoted to familial relationships. Zoe’s father had recently died and although Zoe had adored him, when she goes to court she slowly learns he was flawed in many ways. Several parts of the book are devoted to her reconciling this and I appreciate the message that you can still love people who have done bad things.

However, the pace is slow. This can be both good and bad. As for the good, I got a good sense of who Zoe was as a person. Yet, for all the pages of this book- it lacked in romantic relationship development. There were a few scenes featuring Zoe and her love interest, but I felt their dynamic was off. Their conversations were lacking and I didn’t have any ‘feels’ or anticipation. When they finally kissed, it was anti-climatic.

In addition, while the writing of this book is good, I didn’t find any of the conversations witty- despite the narrator telling me that a particular retort or comment was clever. The rapport was underwhelming and much like the relationship development- lacking.

Overall, this book builds a unique and fascinating world, has good character development as far as Zoe; but the relationship development lacks depth. I found the relationships between both the main and secondary characters to be one-dimensional and at times unrealistic.
Combined with the slow pace and lack of action- I’m hesitant to pursue the sequels or even another series by this author.

See more of my reviews at: http://FantasyBookNook.com and like us at Facebook.com/TheFantasyBookNook
Profile Image for Susan.
Author 20 books8,562 followers
April 2, 2012
I picked up Sharon Shinn’s Troubled Waters at the suggestion of Sarah Maas. It had been quite a long time since I sank into an adult fantasy, and I’ll be honest: I had some trouble at first. I’m so used to the go-go-go! of YA, that the slower moving, deeper world-building of an adult book made it hard at first.

But by page 20, I was hooked. And despite the tiny print crammed onto 400 pages, I zoomed through the novel in two days.

I think my favorite thing about this book is the world. It’s like Avatar: the Last Airbender but DEEPER. The whole idea of random blessings and elements governing our behavior–I adored it. It’s the kind of world I wish I could live in. The kind of world that has stuck with me long after I finished the book. The kind of world I want MORE of. (For those of you who’ve read this: I’ve decided I’m a coru woman with a sweela heart and maybe a little hunti thrown in too!)

My next favorite thing–what REALLY had me turning pages–was the love interest. I won’t tell you who he is. I was literally praying he would be The One from the first sentence I met him, yet not once does the heroine even consider him in that way (well, not for a while, I mean). He’s just “a character”. Some guy in her path, and their relationship forms in such a natural way.

Personally, I looooove romances like that–romances in which there’s no indication that this dude might be The One…yet the reader roots for him anyway. To me, it takes incredibly deft storytelling to create a romance like that. And Sharon Shinn pulls it off. Without once declaring the hero “handsome” or describing the heroine as “having chills” when he’s around*, I was desperate for Zoe (the MC) to choose this guy.

Oh, my stomach knots of happily just thinking of him. And thank goodness! There’s going to be a sequel, due out in 2013.

So, if you like fantasy, epic world building, or delicious romance, then be sure to pick up Sharon Shinn’s Troubled Waters.
Profile Image for Jessie  (Ageless Pages Reviews).
1,694 reviews873 followers
April 11, 2020
Loved this. Like the other Shinn novels I have read, this excels at worldbuilding, innovative magic systems, building an intricate & satisfying plot, and at characterization. Not the type of fantasy that is centered on big action scenes but about a smart, independent woman fighting her own battles And that ship!
Profile Image for Huniya.
264 reviews51 followers
March 28, 2015
I was finished with this novel hours ago, but it took me some time to gather my thoughts and recover from the major disappointment that this book was for me.
Don't get me wrong, for the first half, I thought I had hit jackpot. This book had all the makings of an epic tale; a versatile, sympathetic heroine, interesting characters and powers, mystery, intrigue, a fascinating journey and political system, strange rituals and an amazing potential love interest. The whole deal about blessings was so fun to read about. There is a temple where lies a heap of coins engraved with traits. A person goes there and selects from those coins a blessing that could either be for themselves or for somebody else. There is no bad omen, only promises like power, love, beauty, grace etc. I loved how new parents rushed to find strangers willing to go to the temple with them to find a blessing for their newborn and the impact their tokens had on a person's life. To sum it up, the first half of the book was a solid 4, maybe 5, stars for me. I was re-reading every paragraph twice, sinking into the beautiful dialogues and the promise of something brilliant to come.

So then I went to sleep and the next day, woke up early just so I could come back to this world. But of course, it was like I had picked up something completely different. I didn't mind Zoe when she was docile. I didn't mind Zoe when she was lost, searching, lazy yet content or when she finally learned the truth. In fact, I loved her and respected all her decisions, eager to be on this ride with her. It's what happened to her afterwards that turned me off. I don't know how many times I read about a new wardrobe, or deciding what to wear, or how this dress enhanced this feature, before I just got really annoyed with her. Even with all her musings about CLOTHES, in the end, she declared she didn't care what happened to them . Yeah right, Zoe.

I understand that a person's, particularly a woman's, appearance matters a lot, especially in a place of power but there are so many other things that matters too, yet they never came to light. I also didn't care for how she mistreated the people who only had her best interest at heart. Major rage in here. . Zoe became a changed woman, impulsive, stupid , annoying, someone who thought she could do whatever she wanted and get away with it, judge people and declare a verdict in a matter of seconds, wreck havoc in their lives and still come out, unscratched, claiming that she never cared in the first place and she could leave anytime she wanted. Not cool man, not cool!

There was zero complexity. I was tired of hearing coru woman this, hunti man that, stop putting characters in tight boxes with no exceptions and just let them grow! The story dragged so much and became utterly flat. Don't get me started on the ending. It was horrible. It was atrocious. I don't know what happened, this book could have been so amazing and there was so much potential that it hurts me to think about it! Screw re-reading and savoring and basking in that happy-i-found-the-one glow, I just started skimming the pages of this book so I could be done with it.
Profile Image for Olga Godim.
Author 12 books70 followers
April 25, 2013
I love Sharon Shinn. She has done it again. She created a new world, a new highway to multiple sagas, and a new unforgettable heroine.
Numb with grief, Zoe just lost her father, a former adviser to royalty, banished from court ten years ago. When a young nobleman Darien arrives in Zoe’s village to take her back to the capital, the girl doesn’t resist, even when she learns that she is to become the fifth bride of the king.
At first, she seems passive and docile, an unlikely protagonist. She follows Darien without demur, until a mischance on the road leaves her out of his supervision for a moment and the door of the carriage open. Without any prior thoughts of rebellion, Zoe steps out of the carriage and disappears into the throng of the capital. Suddenly, she realizes that she doesn’t want to become the fifth wife of the old king.
But what does she want? Zoe doesn’t know. She only knows that she is coru, a child of water. In the world where everyone’s personality is affiliated with one element—water, fire, earth, air, or wood—Zoe explores her options as she follows the river: from the poor squatters’ camp on the river shore to her ancestral home by the river’s headwaters, to the king’s palace beside the waterfalls. Her final revelation, that she is coru prime and her mind can command the capricious river, turns her life and the fate of the kingdom upside down.
As she gropes for answers, the story pulls the reader in. Tension escalates, while the author’s new world unfolds in all its magnitude and controversy. Populated by all kinds of people—poor and rich, wicked and kind—it seems a kin to our own world, even to the small and quirky detail that everyone, men and women alike, wear pants.
Some reviewers mentioned that not much is happening in the first half of the book, and that’s true… on the surface. The action transpires much deeper, inside Zoe’s mind and soul. For most of her life, she had existed invisibly, hidden from the world and from herself under her father’s shadow. He was an extraordinary man while he lived, and only now, after his death, Zoe is beginning to discover who she is besides her father’s daughter. The process of her awakening takes time, for Zoe as well as for the readers, and Shinn’s trademark low-key, lyrical narration fits the storyline perfectly.
The novel’s magical system is complex and unique, enclosed and limited, unlike any other magical system in any other writer’s universe. An adept storyteller, Shinn weaves her heroes’ characters with the same mastery as she builds her world. Every detail is important. Every nuance serves a purpose, like a colored thread in a tapestry.
As a result, Zoe comes out three-dimensional and contradictory, like a neighborhood girl. One moment, she is strong and compassionate, ready to risk her life to help a friend. Another moment she is spiteful and naive, destroying the city to save one little princess. All the while she grapples with questions only she herself can answer. Can she use her powers wisely? Can she refrain from abusing it? Can she distinguish where wisdom ends and abuse begins? Can she find her heart in the deep, troubled waters of Sharon Shinn’s imagination?
I look forward to the next book of the series. Hopefully soon.
Highly recommended.
Profile Image for DaBear.
132 reviews4 followers
November 2, 2016

Let me start with things I loved in this book:

1) The plot was good. Nothing original but it was interesting to follow and I always feared that something unexpected may come up. This kept me reading.

2) Main character Zoe was strong and she never irritated me with her actions.

3) My favourite characters were Zoe's friends-servants Calvin and Annova. They both were very kind and took care of Zoë. Very loyal and likeable characters.

Now, to the part where I to complain:

My biggest issue was with romance. Sharon Shinn failed to develop romance line and make it believable. Two supposed love birds interacted MINIMUM with each other and when it happened it was all about politics and secrets. this was the most boring and dry romance or just 2 scenes of romantic feelings ever.

Also, this book for older young adults, I take it. And yet we don't get any romantic, hot, sweet scenes WHILE It was a mess! I am so disappointed with it.

So, let me summarise for you the ending:

Yeah, just like in the best crazy bollywood or Mexican dramas.

And half of the book you are to read about Zoe's living homeless lifestyle and tonnes of shopping!

I am truly disappointed with this book. It was such a promising read but turned out to be just mediocre read. Its all about balance and this book failed to achieve it.

Profile Image for Hirondelle.
877 reviews181 followers
March 1, 2020
My second favorite Sharon Shinn novel so far (after Summers at Castle Auburn which is a big favorite of mine), kind of a treasure hidden in her bibliography that I had missed so far Thank you, B, you were right, this is delightful and competent and I did love it.

I truly like Sharon Shinn's writing, how she describes people and things, the pace of novels and above all, how believable her women characters (main or secondary) usually are. What I sometimes dislike are her plots or unlikely, impossible to suspend disbelief, settings (or plots). This had all of the good, and little, if any, of what I dislike.

This universe is based on deep elemental symbology and Zoe's elemental is water. A river is very important plotwise. This whole book feels like a river flowing, often slowly and peacefully, sometimes fast and furious. The psychology of grief or slow growing attraction also feels real and compelling.

I liked this a lot. The ending is perhaps a bit abrupt, for lack of a better word. I will probably skip book 2, but book 3 seems pretty interesting!
Profile Image for Emma Rose.
1,033 reviews73 followers
March 25, 2023
Reread in March 2023 - this book grounds me, it's the best.

Reread in January 2023 - this is the first book I reread every year. It grounds me. I loved the romance even more this time around if that’s possible and I’ll be damned if spending time in this lush world full of warm characters you want to be friends with, gorgeous food and riches isn’t the perfect way to ring in the new year.

Reread in January 2022 - what a perfect book. It’s got it all, I’m so happy I reread this.

Reread in January 2021 - I might have started a new tradition of my own because this is the THIRD year in a row that I start with this book. What can I possibly say. It's a reminder of everything good in life - love, friendship, found families, laughter, riches, magic. I didn't want it to end.

---- Reread in January 2020 - I've reread this every year since 2014 and it's still just as magical and it's still one of my absolute favourite books ever. I'm overcome with gratitude that such a book exists - it feels like it was written for me. It's gentle magic, wonderful friends and truly, truly, a place I wish I lived in full of foods, jewels, colours and laughter. Nothing terrible happens in this book, it's just there so we're reminded pleasure and light have a place in fantasy. Sharon Shinn's Troubled Waters is the joy I want to carry every moment of 2020. The perfect first book of the year, and the best reread.

Reread in June 2019 - PERFECTION

Reread in January 2019. What a novel! I adore this world. Can't live without rereading this often, it's just so perfect - adventure, romance, magic, and the BEST characters. I truly wish I were living in this book.


Reread this in October 2017. This is one of my favourite books. It's so incredibly lovely. The heroine is amazing and the romance swept me off my feet. It's understated and gorgeous, not obvious but a constant slow burn. The court intrigue is riveting and I wish I were friends with these people. There are few worlds in which I just want to step in and stay in forever, but Welce is definitely one of them. Perfection.


I recently realised I'd never finished this series even though I'd given the first book five stars. I'm so happy I reread this - it was the best kind of comfort read. Ripe with lush details of food and fabrics, palace intrigue, magic and romance with loads of female friendship. It doesn't get better than this novel where conflicts aren't epic but just everyday life. Love this so much.

Original review on May 29,2014:
That was an exceptional read. I loved the court intrigue, the heroine, all of the characters really and I love that it was a real world - there are tons of passages which are just about the minutiae of everyday life and not about the plot and that for me makes the story so realistic and warm. I can't wait to read the rest, Sharon Shinn is so gifted.
Profile Image for Deborah Ideiosepius.
1,587 reviews125 followers
November 19, 2017
Loved this book!
Part of it is the pure joy of the unexpected; I had not hear of the book nor of the author, I picked it up at random off a shelf, started reading the first page and BAM! Hooked that fast!

From the first page I believed in and liked Zoe, by the second, I knew I was taking the book home with me and the next couple of days while I read it were delightful.

Once of the kings court Zoe is living in a tiny village with her father, once the king's counselor now hiding in exile. We come in to the story just as her father dies and her past reaches out from the court to draw her back.

Despite the fact that we never meet her father directly, he remains a strong force of character throughout Zoe's experience in a way that I found really well written and an excellent was to flesh out the young and inexperience Zoe.

The story takes place in the fictional kingdom of Welce and, if you need that sort of thing, there is a brief rundown on the different seasons and monetary system in the front of the book. I didn't bother myself (Sorry Shinn, to ignore your hard work) as I was reading purely for fun. The kingdom is organised around a 'five family' structure each family having a affinity from birth to an element and the 'prime' of each family being the strongest in the element. That's it really, background wise. For anyone who avoids fiction because they find long unpronounceable names, places that don't exist and pages of explanations boring.... You should like this on as it is light, fun to read character driven and overall quite a joyful book.

Why not five stars? Well, I loved the beginning and middle, they would have been 5* but I did feel the plot lost it's focus and the writing it's charm toward the end just a little bit, but still.

So I did not love the last part of the book as much as the start of it, but I did still thoroughly enjoy the characters, the world building, Zoe and even at the end of the day, the plot.
Profile Image for Dana Stabenow.
Author 96 books1,884 followers
September 1, 2021
Great world building in the first novel of this fantasy series. Love the idea of elements as each individual's lifelong influence and the various blessings that go along with them.
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