Sharon Shinn writes pleasant, romantic fantasies about worlds she has invented. In one, angels with beatific singing voices and beautiful white, feathery wings, co-exist with normal humans. Apart from their ability to fly, they are human in their appetites and emotions. In another of her invented worlds, golden-skinned “gulden,” whose society is intensely male-dominated, live alongside blue-skinned “indigos” whose women rule the roost.
These worlds figure in the first two of four stories that make up Quatrain, Shinn’s latest offering. The third story involves a fairy-world where inhabitants live lovely, indolent lives given over to pleasure. A princess from a neighboring kingdom takes refuge there to avoid war and must fend off the enticements of a life free of challenges and responsibility. The last chapter tells of the problems faced by a woman who possesses the magical ability to ignite and put out fires spontaneously. Regarded as an outsider and a witch, she must convince suspicious villagers she is not responsible for a series of mysterious fires.
Each of these slim tales can be seen as allegories. The angels in the first story, “Flight,” are as spoilt as modern-day pop stars or sports heroes, surrounded by groupies, used to getting their way in everything, living pampered lives.
The story “Blood,” about the “gulden” and the “indigos,” has obvious implications for our own multi-cultural society. Of the four stories, this is the most worked-out and developed. The characters possess some depth, and the issues raised have some complexity. Yet the tale ends abruptly without reaching any conclusions, leaving the reader frustrated.
The fourth story about the magical fire-woman is also allegorical. Her plight is that of all outsiders and minorities in societies under stress. Think of the Jews in medieval Europe, suspected and persecuted for starting plagues and other false accusations.
Apart from “Blood,” the three stories are all too slight to be gripping and handled in a somewhat cursory manner. It’s as if Shinn wanted to use this book as an advertisement for her own more extended works.
Shinn writes well and can be interesting. Her books are easy and pleasant to read. But she doesn’t dig deep into her characters, and the conflicts she presents invariably resolve themselves a little too neatly and easily. She’s an engaging writer, but this book left me less than fully engaged.