Quatrain | Book Review

The Emperess’s New Clothes
Cheryl Kobs
Staff Writer

Sharon Shinn’s Quatrain is a series of four novellas all in one book based on worlds she previously created. The first of these novellas is Flight. It takes place in a realm ruled not by kings, but by angels; and not nice, sweet seraphim either. These are asshole angels. The angels are more like frat boys that blow through women as if they are matches, leaving them abandoned and broken. The main goal of any women in this book is to have an angel baby at any cost, even though the fathers are total jerks and most angel births end in the mother dying. The main plot revolves around a 40-year-old woman named Salome, who, in her youth, had been a relentless angel seeker. She’s pretty comparable to a gold digger I suppose. She is trying to keep her niece from that life while she still dreams about the one love she had in the angel named Stephen. All very tragic and romantic, to be sure.

The next story, Blood, follows the tale of Kerk as he tries to find the mother who let him 15 years before. He ends up receiving help from an indigo woman; the indigo being a race he has been raised to hate. Yes, it’s as clichéd as it sounds. The third story, Gold, is about a princess who escapes the war that is ravaging her country by hiding with the allora, a fairylike race. Of course, the longer she stays with them, the more of her own world she begins to forget. No way in a million years could we have seen that coming, right? The final novella, Flame, is a transparent witch-hunt story. When Senneth, a mystic, has to use her magical powers to save a little girl, she reveals herself to the public, which, to say the least, is a bit displeased.

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Each of the stories has a touch of fantasy and sounds like it has an interesting premise, but the overwhelmingly sentimental nature of the writing leaves a nasty taste in your mouth. I mean, I can watch Pride and Prejudice and The Notebook back-to-back with out any problem, but this just reeks like a Lifetime special. Lost loves, abandoned children, losing memories and so on just take the fantasy element right out of the picture. The characters all have very complex backgrounds, but still come across as exceptionally shallow. The “writing craft” aspects of the book are great and Shinn is very descriptive, but I have an issue with lines like “ I love you so much it hurts my heart.” No joke, it’s the last line on page 55.

There was just too much soap opera sentimentality in this book. If you like Joanna Lindsey then this book, and possibly other Sharon Shinn works, are for you, but I prefer stories that actually have some meaning and substance to them. We often read fantasy books in order to enjoy a world that is believably different from our own without being so foreign as to be unrelatable. Allegory is often there if we look for it, but the charm of fantasy is that the author can remove the daily troubles of the real world and hide them skillfully in great images of fancy. Shinn attempts to create worlds that are different only in setting, skin tone, or other superficial ways. I don’t really know what I would do if an angel showed up at my house or I ran into someone with blue skin, but these aspects of her novellas seemed plainly unimportant to her except that it gave her a reason to get creative with her descriptive prose.. The characters are still extremely shallow, and the plots entirely too transparent, which bothered me a lot. I don’t think I could in good conscience recommend Quatrain to anyone I know who wasn’t looking for another bland romance novel wearing new clothes.

Final Verdict (out of 5):