Grief is a difficult subject matter, even though we all experience it at one time or another. I wasn’t really expecting to see it being dealt with so prominently in Sharon Shinn’s Troubled Waters.
Zoe Arderlay has lived in exile with her father for ten years. After he passes away, she is whisked away to the city of Chialto to become the king’s fifth bride. She slips away and lives down by the river where she gradually discovers that she is the heir to one of the powerful families of Chialto. What this synopsis leaves out is that Zoe is absolutely numb with grief through most of this. On the journey to Chialto, she is a shell of herself, barely eating or caring about the world around her. When she seizes her chance to disappear, it was rather surprising that she had found enough will to do so. Only while living near the river did she finally begin to heal and find her true self.
Once Zoe heals, Troubled Waters becomes a fascinating look at court politics. As a member of the powerful families of Chialto, she was raised at court until her father was exiled. She remembers how to play the game, but has been away from it for so long that she no longer really cares. Now as the head of the Lalindars, she has to care once again: it’s up to her to maintain her family’s standing at court while wading through all the intrigue and ambition of the King’s four wives.
At first glance Troubled Waters may sound like a simple enough story, but it is a wonderfully complex look at both grief and political intrigue through a very human character.