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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon June 9, 2005
In "Mystic and Rider," Sharon Shinn introduces her readers to a new fantasy series. This book covers the journey of a rather strained party of travelers, four magically-gifted "mystics" and two King's riders who are assigned to protect them, as they move through the kingdom, trying to discern if rebellion or other issues are surfacing.

The book is definitely predictable. I had figured out several key plot devices well before the major characters did. It is also derivative: other authors have covered the "hate and fear magicians" topic before. However, I am still giving it five stars, because the plot is enjoyable, the characters are believable and interesting, and the world-building is great. I especially enjoyed that both Tayse and Sennath are very strong, but also very vulnerable at the same time. The villains are dangerous, irritating, and fanatical, but very believable. I also enjoyed watching the gradual evolution of the characters and their relationships with each another. I'm definitely looking forward to the next installment.
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32 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2005
I'm opting to give this book four stars, simply because the ending was satisfying and I did enjoy reading it. There were some flaws though that irritated me throughout the way, and I was very disappointed in Shinn's writing style (her Archangel series seems to be very popular, and although I haven't read it, from the way I've seen her work described I expected better).

First off, it was very predictable. Not in the just-like-every-other-fantasy sense, although it wasn't anything terribly new, but I often found myself rolling my eyes since it would be obvious what happened next. I got the sense of just being strung along on a series of mediocre adventures with all obvious outcomes.

It took me about halfway through the book to actually bond with some of the characters, and it was not even close to the bonds I've felt with characters from other books (maybe its a problem, but I can really grow attached to a character if they're written right). I'm sure your meant to, since there are situations meant for just a thing, but it just doesn't work. For example, Tayse (the hero) stops talking to Senneth (the heroine) for ridiculous reasons. I understood why, in a sense, but I felt like I was missing a whole lot to make me actually relate to him. I get the feeling that Shinn was grasping at straws to create conflict between her main characters.

Despite all that, I was relatively happy closing this book. The loose ends were tied up fairly well considering this is the first book in the series, and I'll be able to wait patiently for the next book to come out. But maybe that isn't such a good thing, since some of the best books I've read keep me aching for the next chapter. I recommend this book as a light read, and if you go into it with few expectations I'm sure you'll enjoy it. It is definetly not a bad book, but it simply lacks what I want out of epic romantic fantasy. But who knows? This is just the beginning.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 2006
A party of very disparate people are roaming the kingdom on a mission for the King. Two of them are King's Riders, legendary warriors totally loyal to the King, and three are Mystics, magic users who are tolerated in the capital, but are looked at with suspicion by many, particularly in the southern kingdom, where the party is finding rumors of discontent and possible civil war and treachery. The leader of the party is Senneth, a woman with a mysterious past who is a powerful Mystic who can control fire and work some other kinds of magic, and who has the ear of the King, much to the consternation of the two distrustful Riders. With her is Kirra, a beautiful young noblewoman, who is also a Mystic, but protected by her powerful father who leads one of the Twelve Houses of the Kingdom. She is a shapeshifter, and so is the fifth person, a male servant/guard/companion, who is also a shape-changer. Despite their clashing personalities, they have a similar goal--to serve the king--and they work surprisingly well together, at the start, picking up a sixth member--a boy who is a Mystic. Senneth seems to have a heart for gathering strays, so he joins their group, saved from a life of servitude and danger as a lone Mystic. As their adventures continue, they gradually bond--very gradually! But that's part of the fun. They face a powerful noblewoman who has founded a fanatical religious order that is intent on wiping out Mystics, and her brother, a treacherous nobleman who blatantly schemes to take the crown. Along the way the party gets to know each other... even Senneth gradually has to give up her deepest secrets. I enjoyed seeing this odd party clash and bond. Their adventures weren't earth-shatteringly unique, but the world and the magic is interesting and looks to be a great place for more adventures that I'll happily follow.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2007
Mystic and Rider (2005) is the first Fantasy novel in The Twelve Houses series. Gillengaria is ruled by a king, but the Marlords of the Twelve Houses control most of the land and commerce. If the king dies without heirs, a new king will be chosen from the Twelve Houses.

Mystics in Gillengaria have various talents and are often distrusted and even hated due to these unusual abilities. Senneth is a mystic, but different from all others whom she knows. She can control fire, bathing herself in it if she wishes, a daughter of the sun goddess.

Senneth is sometimes called the King's Mystic since she started doing missions for him. This time she has other mystics with her, Kirra and Donnal, who are shapeshifters, and Cammon, who is a sensitive. She is also accompanied by two King's Riders, who do not trust her at first.

In this novel, Senneth's party takes a side excursion into Dormas to free Cammon from indenture. His family had been overseas when his father died. He and his mother took ship to return to Gillengaria, but she died enroute. The ship's captain sold him to a tavern keeper to pay for their passage.

Once freed and escorted safely away from the town, Senneth starts teaching Cammon ways to use his mystical abilities. He begins to notice that he can perceive things without the use of his normal senses. Although Senneth has duties to perform at the present, she decides to introduce Cammon to some of her sensitive friends as soon as possible.

In a small town, the group discovers a strange phenomenon. Something is killing small animals and even a child and a passed out drunk. Senneth recognizes something familiar in the situation. After gathering more information, she decides that the killer is a raelynx, a wild cat from the Lirrenlands. Senneth sets out at night and lures the raelynx to her and then controls its mind and body. Despite a few protests, Senneth takes the raelynx with them on their mission, much like she included Cammon in the group.

In this story, Senneth is the nominal leader of the group, but encourages the others to contribute their ideas. Although it is her mission, Tayse is the actual leader for daily affairs and defensive decisions. In a sense, Senneth is the strategist and Tayse is the tactician.

Senneth and Tayse have to work together rather frequently and closely. Since she is not a King's Rider, Tayse doesn't trust her, but he beginning to have less distrust. Justin, the other Rider, also begins to respect her ability and judgment.

The group finds numerous indications of hatred toward mystics, from social disapproval to outright murder. The further south they travel, the worst the situation looks. They begin to hear more and more about the Daughters of the Pale Mother and their preaching against mystics. They also hear about the soldiers following the Pale Mother. Moreover, the southern Houses are beginning to expand their household troops.

Senneth and Kirra occasionally meet with the Marlords and discuss their views on mystics and the king. They find that the southern nobles are angry over the potential succession problem of the kingdom. King Baryn has only one daughter, Amalie, and she has been secluded for several years. Amalie's mother had died fairly recently and the King remarried shortly thereafter; some rumors said that the new Queen is a mystic.

Senneth is determined to push on to Gisseltess lands before she returns to Ghosenhall, the royal capital. The others suggest that she turn back sooner, but she is the mission leader and they follow her. Even when they encounter armed bands searching for them, they follow her. Even when Tayse is captured by hostile soldiers, they follow her. By this time, they have become a close-knit team and she is the leader.

Highly recommended for Shinn fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of magical talents, close combat, social encounters and a bit of romance.

-Arthur W. Jordin
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2006
I enjoyed the book very much, and found the characters intriguing and charming, but the plot really was pretty episodic. The reason seemed to be the necessity of introducing a setting that would serve over several books' length of series.

So the excuse was that we'd go meet each leader of 12 houses (I think we only made it through half of them, so the other half are probably in book 2), and the king, and the bad guys.

I like almost all Shinn's books that I've read, and find her writing style is appealingly warm. Like Senneth in the book, it spreads warmth everywhere but is hesitant to catch fire -- lest it do some damage. I think the character of Senneth is a good metaphor for how Shinn is as a writer. She always has the ability to burn everything down, or kill, but she really does not want to.

This means the scale of happenings in the book is mild. I prefer that, but others might miss torture, murder, sadism, or the like. There are fanatics and there are 'bad guys' but overall, they aren't melodramatically bad.

I like Shinn's tendency to romance plots, too. I didn't actually expect one in this book, though why, given that she always has them, I have no idea. But about halfway it became clear that it was a romance plot and all the better, the travelogue was getting a bit boring by then and I'd already figured out the characters' secrets.

If you have a soft spot in your heart and would rather not be a killer, rather adopt a man-eating mountain lion than shoot it, and rather risk your ex starting a war over you than kill him in self defense, this is the book for you. If a character like that would make an appealing heroine to you, likewise. :)
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2009
Mystic and Rider is the first in a series of fantasy novels staring a group of friends who are lead by Senneth a woman with mystical powers. Her team is composed of three other mystics and two soldiers. They are on a quest to discover the feelings of the people in the kingdom. On the way they encounter several traitors and a wild creature called a raelynx. I listened to the audio edition of this novel and found had potential but felt it lacked edginess and depth.

I like a bit more... Edge in my fantasy. Senneth and her group never felt quite real. There was no sexual tension, no edge, and certainly very little grit. Even when Senneth is injured this occured off stage. The relationships are all pretty chaste, almost like a young adult novel. Senneth loves Tayse, Donal loves Kira, etc, but they don't do anything other than get mad when they feel ignored/slighted or yearn very subtlely for each other.

Thus, listening to this story, it took me a long time to feel anything for these characters. I also felt the male characters were poorly described. For instance I know that Kira's hair is gold, and Senneth's is White, and what the ladies are wearing, but the guys are usually just described as dark. We learn towards the end that Donal is bearded, but by then, I had created an image of him in my own head, and it did not include a beard.

I think this was an ok effort. The author is capable of more, and I would've liked to see her ditch the Raelynx who was a bit annoying after awhile. Also Cammon (sp) grated on my nerves. I think this could be improved by maturing the series a bit and adding a bit more grit. I don't need every gory detail, but surely in a group of two women and four eligble guys there is more going on than playing cards and being bland. I want action! Hurt feelings! A coarse joke or two, something to make me feel these characters are less Ken and Barbie and more real.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 8, 2007
There is unrest in Gillengaria as whispers begin of some houses possibly rising up in rebellion to wrest control from an old king. Added to this is the presence of Mystics in the realm. Men and women with magical power. For years they have lived side by side unremarkably with their non-mystical brethren. But lately, distrust of the Mystics has flared up. A new cult built around a Moon Goddess has made a policy of hunting down and killing mystics and the distrust is beginning to spread among the common folk.

King Baryn has decided to send one of his most trusted advisors, Senneth, on a journey to the Southern houses to see how deep the unrest really is. Senneth is a powerful mystic with a colorful and mysterious past. Joining her are two King's Riders, his most fearsome,loyal and elite Guard, Tayse and Justin. Also two other Mystics, Kirra Dannaloustrous, the high born petted daughter of one the wealthiest Houses and her Servant Donnal. Both of them are shape shifters. And along the way they pick up Cammon, a young mystic with the ability to "read" people. This group of six Mystic and Riders head out on a journey that is full of danger and surprise and, yes, even a little romance.

I picked up this book on a whim because the cover was so bright. Really, it is a bright yellow/orange with a picture of Senneth on it making fire with her fingertips. I had read Sharon Shinn's stuff before so I was reasonably sure it's be a nice read. I was not disappointed. At it's most basic, this is a kind of introduction to Gillengaria. We learn about it's land, it's people, it's customs etc. As this is the first of a four book series, there is quite a bit of exposition, but it isn't done in a boring way. Shinn manages to reveal what she needs to in an organic and often exciting way. And it is, importantly, an introduction to the six characters who make up the center of this and the remaining three books.

In the beginning the six characters are a disparate band put together by their king for a fact finding mission. Tayse and Justin are a unit. Loyal to their King they will do whatever he tells them, but they distrust the Mystics. Justin hates the nobility and therefore despises Kirra. Donnal is fiercely loyal to Kirra only. Cammon is a johnny-come-lately and is positioned as the tag along an is unsure of his place in the group. Senneth is the leader of the group (much to Tayse's displeasure) and is set apart. She is aloof and very mysterious and has the Kings' complete trust. This fractured band somewhat testily and uncomfortably undertake to spend months together.

But over the course of the book, there is a slow coming together -- a gelling. The group begin to see each other's strengths and learn about each other's pasts. Because they also encounter peril on their journey they learn to fight at each other's backs and trust each other. The author does a really nice job of making this happen in an uncontrived, yet noticeable way.

And truly, this is Senneth's story. She is the enigmatic center of the group that they (an we the reader) want to know all about. Of all the things learned on the journey, Senneth's story is easily the best and most fascinating. I really liked spending time with this group. I look forward to seeing what else they have in store for us.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 2, 2006
The first novel in the series of the Twelve Houses, this is the story of a scouting party who has been sent out into the towns and villages to test the feelings in regards to Mystics. The king needs to know the truth, but he understands the dangers involved, so he sends two of his Riders to accompany the motley group of mystics on their journey. Feelings run high, and trust isn't easily given. Senneth is a mystery to many of the players in the group, but she is the one whom the king charged with the journey, so the Riders, Justin and Tayse, must put aside their feelings of distrust in mystics to complete their charge. As the group travels on, adding members to their already unusual group, situations cause some re-evaluations and self-reflection of personal feelings. This is a great story, with a lot of players but not too many, well-written. It was a difficult book to put down. I look forward to the next - The Thirteenth House.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2008
I came to this book with fairly high expectations, having read and enjoyed Shinn's novels The Shapeshifter's Wife and Summers at Castle Auburn. I found it to be a decent read, but rather jarring all the way through. The characters are likeable enough, but they seem to blab out all their backstory in an unrealistic way -- although Senneth holds back a few details of her past early on, they seem to pop out more because the plot needs some picking up rather than because it's warranted by what's going on with her psychologically. The setting is really underdeveloped. There is slight description of the landscape they're riding through but it never feels very real. When they stay in an inn it feels like the Marriott -- they're in connecting rooms! Each of the plot twists gets resolved very quickly without any tension ever building up -- I never felt the characters were actually in danger (and of course they have to stay alive and undamaged for further adventures in successive books, don't they?). Towards the end the romance finally gets resolved and the two characters who've been falling in love throughout the book get together, but there aren't any fireworks by this point. The writing was not bad but not terrific either -- I found myself doing line edits in my head as I read, and I'm sure Shinn can do better than the standard of prose in this novel, based on her other books I've read. My overall impression was that she rushed through this book, perhaps for economic reasons (looking at her books for sale on amazon she seems to be writing two series at the same time, one for adults and one for young adults). If I didn't have anything else to read, I'd pick up her next book to while away the time, but really there are far too many other fantasy novels out there for me to spend time on the rest of this series.
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23 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2005
Like a mystified and riderless horse, Sharon Shinn's fantasy novel "Mystic & Rider" gallops to the point of fatigue and frustration. This conclusion is especially unfortunate in light of the excellent opening chapter. But buyer beware: the tension and excitement rarely increase from that point, and the last of the 440 pages brings us little closer to some kind of resolution or revelation than the first. Rather, the *entire* novel is simply a prologue for the rest of the series.

The novel's plot is perfectly plain. A band of adventurers is dispatched by the king to investigate troubling rumors in the southern provinces. Shinn's writing is usually transparent and, in some places, strikingly good. Her characters are likable if on the bland side, and the magic system is passable. (Some people are born as "mystics" with useful, though usually minor, powers--not unlike mutants in the X-Men comics.) But neither the writing nor characterization overcome the lack of focus and tension in the story itself. To elaborate (and not be thought unfair), I'll discuss my specific problems with the story after the next two paragraphs. Please stop there to avoid spoilers.

In sum, I really liked the first chapter or so, and Shinn's writing kept me chasing this riderless horse of a novel until the unsatisfying end. It may be that, now that the set-up for the fantasy kingdom is complete, this turns out to be a wonderful series (because this could have been a great book with a stronger plot and focus). However, I'll wait and see before spending any more time or money on the chase.

Recommended as a library loan for die-hard readers of fantasy. Two-and-a-half disappointing stars.

*SPOILER ALERT* (PLOT DETAILS INCLUDED)

*Most genre novels follow a pattern of rising action, climax and resolution. (The Fellowship journeys toward Mordor; it splits and the situation darkens as Frodo struggles toward Mount Doom; the characters reunite in the aftermath, and loose ends are bound.) I'm all for creativity, change, and other advancements of genius that limit cookie-cutter tales; however, there's a reason why the pattern of rising action is the standard: it makes good stories; it's logical; it works.
*By contrast, Mystic is entirely episodic. On the plus side, I've never read a fantasy novel with this wandering feel before. On the minus side, I realize there's a reason why. (See above.) What you have here is a company setting out with a goal, yes, but an unfocused one: see what's out there and gather information. So there's no tension or increasingly difficult series of obstacles or increasing political or relational entanglements. Rather, the company meets a different problem in each spot along the way. A series of episodes results, and the chapter titles could be listed accordingly: They rescue a mystic boy from slavery. They find slain mystics. They endure a snowstorm. They save a village from a strange predator. They help deliver a mystic baby. And so on--and the tension never intensifies because it's as if they're not staying in the same story.
*What's even more maddening: early on, they've mostly gathered the information the king will need. However, they just keep wandering in and out of trouble, just to get a bit more. They meet two potentially interesting villains along the way, but just as quickly, they leave them behind .... (Nor do they consider sending someone to report back to the king in case the others are killed or captured. Also, their rescue of Tayse from the convent was absurdly easy: (1) the leader trots out her defenseless novices to meet this dangerous company, instead of surrounding them with armed soldiers; (2) a raelynx can dodge whole volleys of missiles?; (3) why not shoot the companions instead of the raelynx? Better yet, use some foresight and cunning and hurl glass globes of powdered moonstone at their mystics to disable them.)
*As a final note, the main character, Senneth, is decent: a powerful mystic (with a mysterious past, of course) who is also a competent swordswoman. However, how can the reader even begin to worry about her or the others when, time and again, she's described as the most powerful mystic in the world? In fact, no one even comes close to her--she can even burn down cities! A good person to travel with but, unfortunately, not necessarily to read about.
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