Quatrain is a collection of, as the name suggests, four all-new novellas from Sharon Shinn. Each is set in a distinct world established from previous books, and each story stands firmly against the others. Shinn did an excellent job of varying the up four short pieces, not just the setting but also the characters and even the type of stories themselves. Two are love stories, and two are friendship stories (although one has intimations that more is possible); one involves a girl still discovering herself, one focuses on a young woman firmly grounded in her goals, and two feature women past the first reckless blush of youth; two are from blatant fantasy settings (read: full of magic), and two are from fantastic science fiction settings; two are sequels and two are prequels to other books; there are lost loves, new loves, and loves that have always been there but never bloomed; there are characters we’ve seen before and completely new personalities. In short, it has just a little bit of everything.
“Flying” takes place in Samaria, about a year and a half before Archangel. A reformed angel-seeker who had known Rafael years before finds her life overrun with angels whose very presence threatens to destroy all she has worked to build with her new life and her young niece.
“Blood” follows some years after the controversy stirred up by Heart of Gold. A young gulden man has moved to the city with his stepmother’s family. Once there he begins to search for the one kind of family tie he no longer has—blood kin. His mother ran off to the city years ago, but she may not want to be found….
“Gold” is set in the world of Summers at Castle Auburn and deals with the next generation. Queen Coriel’s daughter is sent into the magical kingdom of Alora for safekeeping when Auburn’s peace is under siege. Once there, she struggles to find an anchor strong enough to keep her from succumbing to the enchantment of the aliora.
“Flame” is the story with the most direct link to any other works. It is a prequel to Mystic and Rider and shows us exactly what Senneth was up to in the weeks before leaving on her tour of the Twelve Houses—saving a town from an untrained fire mystic and finding out that even magic used charitably can be met with suspicion.
Every single one of the stories is strong. In another kind of anthology—the kind where they would be pitted against other writers’ works and not each other—each would probably stand out as a favorite. Compared to one another…how do I pick my favorite?
Sweetest? “Flying.” The lost love story is romantic and piercing, while the deep maternal devotion to an impetuous young girl from someone who isn’t even her mother is uplifting and hopeful.
Most amusing? “Flame.” Possibly just because Senneth is a character that I know very well from having read a five-book series focused on her, but still. I had a smile on my face throughout this story (even when she was in trouble, because this was still the Senneth who could burn down a barn and have plenty left over for singeing the hair off trouble-makers), and the first meeting with Tayse had me shrieking with laughter.
Most beautifully written? “Gold.” The writing befit the dreamy magic of Alora, lyrical and sparkling and gorgeously rendered imaging. Like Princess Zara, I didn’t want to leave the fey kingdom behind.
Sharpest characters? “Blood.” Everyone in this story was fascinating, from Kerk and his diffident charity to the young gulden of the Lost City to his stepmother and her husband, who embody in a way not so clearly shown in Heart of Gold how loving the gulden society can really be, to the self-confident, headstrong Jalci who is like a happier version of her Aunt Kitrini at that same age, to the other gulden Kerk meets in the city.
I really enjoyed each of the stories collected here, and I absolutely loved the whole premise of the project. After such a long stretch in one world with the Twelve Houses series, I’m not sure I could have imagined a better way for Shinn to break out into something new (or, rather, old).
Quatrain is a fantastic Shinn Sampler. If you have heard about her but never read her work, these stories will give you a really good representation of the kinds of stories she writes and the type of worlds she creates. Or, if you have someone you would like to introduce to her writing, this collection is a good way to do that. Each of the stories is about a hundred pages, so less of a commitment for a skeptical reader than a full novel (or series) would be. And if you’re like me and already a fan, this set of stories reads like a reunion of old friends—comforting, amusing, and satisfying.