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Jeweled Fire
An Elemental Blessings Novel
by Sharon Shinn
ACE Books; $18; 403 pp.
Published: February 2020

Delving into the wonderful world of the Southern Nations created by Shinn, we are back dealing with one of the Princesses of Welce,

Princess Corene is tired of not doing anything in her father's court and so decides to join the entourage of the Empress of Malinqua who is sailing back home. Corene decides to see if one of the Empresses nephews might be a good husband. But more importantly, she's going to see a different world, to get away from her father, Darien the current regent of Welce and determine for herself, which way her heart lies.  It's an adventure!

Sailing to Malinqua takes time, so Corene learns not only the language, but a lot of the convoluted relationships of the Empresses family and of her nephews, one of whom might be declared the Empress' heir.  The Empress is also bringing a surprise to her court, a hitherto for unknown grandson, Steff, who also might just be declared her heir.

Once in Malinqua, Corene meets up with the other princess bride-candidates. Melissande from Coquizela a bright little bird of a woman and very clever, the quiet and lovely Alette from Dhonsho, and the daughter of the court prefect, Liramelli. The nephews, Jiramondi, Greggorio, and  Carameno all have their pluses and minuses as possible emperors. Carameno is more clever and focused on the business of the empire, but is confined to a wheelchair, Jiramondi is smart but indolent and Greggorio, the prettiest of the lot is kind and outgoing, but just doesn't have the heft to be emperor.

So Corene is thrown into a colorful seething vat of personalities and political maneuverings that are constantly in flux.  And it really doesn't help that there have been all these mysterious deaths and disappearances in the Empresses' family.

Is someone manipulating the prospective heirs? Who would dare to manage all these players in hopes of getting their choice of emperor into the catbird seat? The empress is nobody's fool and is certainly not someone to mess with!

Corene, along with her faithful and trusted guard Foley, are trying to make sense of all the players, who's related to whom, who would be the best choice for emperor, and more importantly, if any of them worthy of Corene's love and devotion.

While weighing the pros and cons and trying to keep out of courtly shenanigans as much as possible, Corene still has time to indulge in things that are fun, like shopping and seeing the sights in the city, and attending ornate dinners and parties with the other princesses. The princesses and Steff, since Corene made friends with him on the ship, frequently get together in the evening when official events are done and discuss the daily shifting of allegiances.

Tensions ratchet up beyond the walls of the castle and the princesses are beginning to feel as if they are political hostages in a possible war. The gaggles of soldiers that surround the princess when they go out are beginning to feel more like guards and less like flashy royal overkill.

This is a terrific read and Shinn's characters are such wonderful complex creations as is the world they inhabit.

I enjoyed this novel the most of the Elemental Blessings series. ~~ Sue Martin

For more titles by Sharon Shinn click here

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