Review – Royal Airs (Elemental Blessings #2) by Sharon Shinn

Royal Airs cover image

Publisher: ACE
Publish Date: Out now
How I got this book: Purchased and ARC from the publisher

Josetta is a princess of one of the Five Families. But she is far from the throne, so she is free to spend her days working in the poorest sections of the city.

Rafe Adova, an outcast since he was born, lives the life of a career gambler in those slums. He has no ambition other than cheating at the card tables—until the night he decides to help a girl named Corene, who looks like she’s stumbled into the wrong bar. She, too, is a princess—sister to Josetta, who finds her with Rafe. He fascinates her.

Josetta has never encountered anyone like him—someone seemingly devoid of elemental blessings. He is drawn to her, though he thinks they are unlikely to ever meet again—but their connection grows strong when she nurses him back to health after he is assaulted by foreign mercenaries.

And when they learn the reason he’s being hunted, they know that the truth about his history could endanger not only their love but also their very lives…
This blurb came from Goodreads.

I am a huge Shinn fan and have been for years. When Troubled Waters released in 2010 I think I read it about three different times that year and pushed it on my family. I also checked Shinn’s website for any hints that she was going to make this into a series instead of a standalone novel but for years it seemed as if she was only providing one glimpse of this fascinating new world. Happily for me, during one of my visits to Shinn’s website she mentioned she was working on a sequel to Troubled Waters. Royal Airs takes place about five years after the events that ended Troubled Waters. It involves many of the characters introduced and followed in the first installment so I recommend you read it first. This review and even the back cover blurb contains some spoilers. While I enjoyed Royal Airs and the additional complexity Shinn brought, it didn’t quite wow me as much as the first installment did.

Welce tradition and power was based on the idea that everyone had an affinity to one or more of the five elements in varying degrees of strength. Each element was associated with particular personality traits and skills that were well known throughout Welce. In addition, each element had particular blessings. The blessings were marked on coins found all mixed up in barrels or baskets at local temples. Right after birth, three blessings were randomly drawn for each individual and those blessings were always a part of the individual’s life. Blessings were also picked during other times in a person’s life whenever they felt the need. Sometimes “Ghost Coins”, coins whose symbol had been rubbed off, were drawn. Usually those coins were removed from circulation as a blessing whenever they were discovered and when the selection of blessings was periodically restocked.

Princess Josetta did a lot of growing over the past five years, from a spoiled girl completely ruled by her mother to a young woman finding her own way and challenging her guardians in the meantime. They were concerned about the amount of time and money Josetta spent in the slums because even after losing her status as heir to the throne she was still related to several of Welce’s influential leaders. Yet her very familiarity with the slums came in handy one night when she needed to visit them to retrieve her sister. I really enjoyed the changes I saw in Josette from her introduction back in Troubled Waters to her return in this story. I also enjoyed what I saw as the story progressed and how she seemed to care more about her land since her life was uprooted.

Rafe was a fascinating character. Raised by his stepfather after the death of his mother on a farm, he never really felt like he belonged. Part of his unsettled feeling came from the mysterious notches and ripples in his ears and part of it came from missing the foundation of life in Welce, his blessings. Regardless of where, when, or who drew blessings for Rafe, they were always “ghost coins” giving him no tie to any element. After leaving his stepfather’s farm Rafe made his living as a gambler in some rather seedy establishments. He never considered himself as heroic but when he noticed some men starting to hassle a young woman who obviously did not belong in the slum he intervened and became involved with the royal family.

I enjoyed Rafe and Josetta’s interaction as they slowly grew to trust and then find more with each other. Rafe’s support of Josetta’s projects in the slums along with Josetta’s support when Rafe finally found something that called to him outside of gambling. I found the intrigue surrounding Rafe’s parentage fascinating along with the eventual solution fascinating. It also left me very curious about the next installment and still hoping that a particular steadfast character would receive a HEA of his own.

I did find myself disappointed in the previous hero and heroine, Darien and Zoe. Darien’s character seemed to have regressed back to the man he was when he initially met Zoe instead of continuing on his journey of viewing people as more than objects to manipulate. Zoe’s spirit, which I previously admired, and her refusal to fit in with the status quo seemed to have become subsumed by Darien’s forceful personality. One of the things I usually enjoy about Shinn’s series is how her character growth continues for previous key individuals with each installment, unfortunately I found that lacking. I also found some of the intrigue about the future heirs to the throne a bit contrived given other previously established personalities.

Royal Airs was overall an enjoyable read but some of the characters were not very well linked to previously established personas which I found disappointing. I did enjoy seeing the grownup Josetta and how she ended up with a man who cared little for her connections. I am also very curious to see how the leaders of Welce deal with the developments at the end of Royal Airs in the next installment. Shinn remains on my list of authors to buy I just hope the tighter connection I am used to seeing with her writing returns.

I give Royal Airs a B/B-

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2 thoughts on “Review – Royal Airs (Elemental Blessings #2) by Sharon Shinn”

  1. I have not read one of her books, but I think one of her stories in an anthology some day. And it was very religious so that made me decide not to read anything by her. Am I wrong in that? Are the rest of her books more religious than this nice sounding fantasy series?

  2. She has a variety. One series, Samaria, and I think one of her single titles, Heart of Gold was centered around a more western style religion. Her others are much more fantasy IMO. Some do mention religion but as part of the world building or like in our world how it can be used to rally people for a cause and reason away what would be considered atrocities. They don’t have everything governed by religion if that makes sense unlike the Samaria series. Let me know if you want to discuss more :).

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