This is a lovely book for anyone who wants more from Sharon Shinn's beloved worlds: the 12 houses series, the Samaria Series, the Summers at Castle Auburn and Heart of Gold. She revisits the fantasy and science fiction realms with the characters we have already gotten to know. It is called "Quatrain" because it is four unrelated short stories. Each story has strong, interesting characters with a chance to change. Her prose is not above an average eighth grade level, yet the story lines are beautiful enough to enthrall adults as well. Sexual relationships are implied, and flirting described, without graphics.
If you are not familiar with all four of these previous works you may not appreciate the storylines. Of course a piece of work is able to stand on its own. And, it adds another dimension, if you are familiar with the history of Samaria, and you read the first short story in this book, entitled "Flight." Similarly, there is added depth to the story "Gold" if you have read Summers of Castle Auburn. One might say with as many Samaria novels that Ms Shinn has already written, there can't be much more to say. The same themes are explored or religion, technology, faith and love. I believe she pulls it off again, beautifully.
The first of the four stories is called "Flight". Fans familiar with the first Samaria book will be pleased to see Gabriel and Rafael as characters in this short story. They are not the main focus, however. Our heroine is a mortal woman Salome. She lives on a remote farm with her only niece and many other employees. I like how Samaria, while reminiscent of our past, is not as sexist as a Judeo-Christian society would be back in the days of horsepower. Shinn paints an interesting picture of what life would be like if religion were purely technological. Her main character is not as tortured as Rachel, yet somewhat regretful of things past. The story is simple, evoking themes of abuse, loyalty and honesty. There is a sweetness to her love stories that is not corny. She writes well of love, in its many facets: family love, sexual love, infatuation, fidelity. Some say love is like a window we press ourselves against, trying to get in without breaking it. That might aptly describe the round about way our heroine reaches conclusion. There's no real obstacle beyond her fear. The second story is called "Blood" and I found it to be the most intriguing. The original novel from which it is based, is entitled Heart of Gold. While I love all of Shinn's work, that one was the one I connected to least. She seemed so bent, at the time, at describing her society that it didn't seem like the characters were well developed. They were sort of stand-ins for the sociological point she was making. In this short story however, the characters are much more warmly described. Kerk, is a lonely young man, of the Gold tribe, moving to the city and proximity of Blue people for the first time. His take on their culture is delightful. Shinn fully realizes how groups view each other. For interest's sake there is even a third group, called the "whites." The Gold tribe reminded me somewhat of the West with a very repressed social system and a very "doublespeak" manner of speech. The Indigo or Blue people are more straight forward in their speech. Yet there isn't a huge push to make them appear as "indigenous" people by comparison. They are just different from the Golds, matriarchal, while the Blues are patriarchal. The fourth story is called "Gold" and it takes place in the magical world near Castle Auburn. Princess Zara is a likeable young teen. She isn't annoyingly spunky like the girls in animated cartoons. At times she is downright pouty. She goes through the normal highs and lows of her age group. I think Shinn captures the essence of young adulthood remarkably. Zara, thinks she knows everything, and of course that can't be true. That doesn't stop her, however, from acting as if she knows what she is doing. For her own safety she is being sent away from the castle to the place where the ghostly Alora live. The Alora are free spirits in every sense of the word. They love easily, move easily, dress themselves in gossamer lightness. Their homes seem made of brambles and flowers, hardly having full walls or any sturdiness. No one needs to work in their village. It's hard to tell if this is the wonder of eternal bliss, or the tragedy of a heroin trip. The reader is left to decide for herself. Shinn, slyly avoids making her judgment known. Zara, is by turns completely enamored of the place, and then homesick. "Gold" refers to the fact that it protects her from being completely brainwashed by the touch of the Alora. It is interesting, so look at Shinn's work as sociological statements. The Samaria books show us what the middle east might have been like if they were not so overlaid with Christianity. Hard to imagine you say? Pick up Archangel, her first in the series and you will see what I mean. The randy angels don't act like anything we read about in the Bible. Yet the names of the characters are often biblical and the name she has given her god in this mythical world is "Jehovah". The Heart of Gold book looks at what a future society might look like if it were strongly matriarchal. And the "Gold" short story examines the pros and cons of a constantly "happy" lifestyle. The last story is called "Flame", and returns us to the character Senneth from the 12 Houses series. Like X-men, this mythic world explore prejudice against characters with special powers. Magic is viewed with strange distrust. Religions have cropped up which mean to ban it. Witches are scary, and yet witches seem to work only for the good in this land.