Jeweled Fire by Sharon Shinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Corene grew up as a princess in the royal court of Welce, believing she had a decent chance of becoming the next queen. When that changes, she is left without direction or purpose and decides to make a big change to demonstrate her independence. Stowing away aboard a ship headed for Malinqua and a chance to become a queen there by marrying one of the empress's three nephews seems like a grand adventure...until she realizes the current ruler is playing a mysterious game of her own, and the visiting princesses competing for the throne are more like pampered hostages than guests. Still, the chance to reinvent herself gives Corene the opportunity to make close friends--something she's never really had before. Along with Foley, her steadfast bodyguard, Corene and her new friends must uncover the secrets hidden by members of Malinqua's court if they are to survive the struggle for succession.
Corene wasn't my favorite character in the first two books, although she definitely grew on me as Ms Shinn developed her character and gave glimpses of the hurting girl beneath the spoiled behavior. She really gets her chance to grow up and shine in this volume of the series, though! Her impulsive behavior at the beginning definitely fit with the developmental stage of an older teenager, but by the end of the story, I kept thinking she was older than her chronological age.
Interestingly, none of the primary characters in this book has magical abilities, unlike in the two previous volumes. This makes for a different feel to the story. Not better, not worse--just different.
For readers' advisors: character and setting doorways are primary, story and language strong secondary doorways. Sharon Shinn is a master of world-building! The 3 mild swear words--2 in the same sentence--are the reason I hesitate to mark this book as "clean reads." There are strong elements of romance and murder mystery, although not enough to label them as either of those genres, especially romance since the story would remain even if the romance between Corene and Foley were removed. Book #3 in this series starts off at a leisurely pace that intensifies as it progresses toward the suspenseful climax. Despite the entire book taking place outside Welce, it still should be read in series order so as to fully understand and appreciate the history and context.
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