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Literature / Elemental Blessings

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A series of novels by Sharon Shinn.

In the kingdom of Welce, everything is ruled by the Five Elements, even down to the days of the year and the personalities of the people. The Five Primes help keep the realm in balance, but politics interferes in everything.

The Five Elements and Families:

  • Coru—Water and Blood—Lalindar Family
  • Elay—Air and Spirit—Dochenza Family
  • Hunti—Wood and Bone—Serlast Family
  • Sweela—Fire and Mind—Ardelay Family
  • Torz—Earth and Flesh—Frothen Family

The first novel, Troubled Waters, follows coru Zoe Ardelay. Her father Navarr, brother to the sweela Prime, was exiled from the capital city of Chialto ten years before. The day of his funeral, Darien Serlast, King Vernon's favorite advisor, arrives to collect Zoe. He claims she is to be the King's fifth bride, but something about his story just doesn't add up. Upon entering the capital, Zoe slips away and loses herself in the heart of the city, hoping to find herself again. What she discovers draws her back into the world of scheming and politics she thought she had left behind forever, but it is the only way to uncover the truth behind her father's banishment and the secrets that Darien Serlast would do anything to keep.


The second novel, Royal Airs is the story of elay Princess Josetta. Five years after Zoe turned the country upside down, Josetta is freer than she ever was before. But a mystery is dropped at her feet when she crosses paths with Rafe Adova, a man who appears to lack the Elemental Blessings every Welchin is born with. With rival foreign royals arriving in Chialto, Josetta and Rafe soon discover the secrets of his past go much deeper, and if they don't find a solution, war may erupt between two powerful kingdoms, with Welce as the battlefield.

The third novel, Jeweled Fire, follows sweela Princess Corene as she runs away to the neighboring country of Malinqua, where the empress is gathering foreign princesses as potential marriage candidates for her three nephews. As the nephews vie for the throne, the appearance of a new, long-lost grandson of the empress complicates the succession. And as Corene and her faithful guard discover, there may be a darker reason she and the other girls were brought to court...


The fourth novel, Unquiet Land, follows the torz woman Leah, a character who was introduced in the previous book. Returning to Welce after five years, Leah has to pick up the pieces of the life she left behind, including her infant daughter, Mally. In Malinqua, Leah spied for Darien; now that she's home, he asks her to do it all over again to investigate the Karkans, whose extreme philosophy soon puts the city's poor in danger. Balancing this, the friend she made in Malinqua, Chandran, has come to Welce too, with his own mysterious past.

Elemental Blessings contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Alys is quite happy to let her new husband try to rape Corene or even marry her off to an old man if it furthers her own ambitions.
  • Aerith and Bob: Compare Zoe, Darien, Vernon, and Natalie to Josetta, Elidon, Seterre, Alys, and Corene.
  • All for Nothing: In the first book Kayle's nephew has been trying to kill Josetta so Corene, who he believes to be his biological daughter, will become Queen. Obviously this fails but it also turns out that Corene's father is actually Darien.
  • Ambiguous Situation: It is suggested Garameno might be sterile but He could have been faking those rumors or health tests to further discourage assassins from seeing him as a threat.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Mirti Serlast, the Hunti prime, and Queen Elidon are noted to be very close and there are rumours they're sleeping together after Vernon's death.
  • Arranged Marriage: Vernon and Elidon arrange this with the Viceroy of Soeche-Tas for twelve-year-old Corene. Zoe was not amused.
  • Attempted Rape: Corene has been terrified of Dominic Wollimer since he tried to force his way into bed with her.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Zoe and Darien in Troubled Waters. By Royal Airs, they're married with a daughter. They still bicker, but of course, they knew that would happen going into the relationship.
  • Berserk Button: Go ahead, threaten anyone under Zoe's care. We dare you.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Alys tries to hide her bitchiness. By the second book, no one's buying it.
    • Josetta's mother Seterre is a less nasty, more juvenile version in the first book, by the second book she's mellowed out having got some distance from the royal court.
  • Bodyguard Crush: It initially appears that Foley has one on his charge, Josetta. Ultimately subverted: Josetta was interested in him, but he refused. Jewelled Fire reveals that he actually has feelings for Corene and vice versa, though he's resistant initially.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Kayle Dochenza. If all elay people are Cloud Cuckoolanders to an extent, Kayle as the elay prime takes it up a notch. People's first reaction to him tends to be "he's certainly a madman." However, he's also a brilliant inventor, responsible for bringing both cars ("elaymotives") and airplanes to Welce.
  • The Butler Did It: Lorian, Filomara's steward, turns out to have a body count of at least three.
  • The Chessmaster: Darien Serlast "knows everything"—or so he makes everybody think. Even before Vernon dies, Darien is pulling most of the strings.
  • Clashing Cousins:
    • Prince Ghyaneth of Bergenerry and his cousin Saiceth (his heir until he has kids) live in mutual fear and hatred, as Ghyaneth will kill his cousin and her children as soon as he has an heir and (at least according to him) she's just as ruthless.
    • Ghyaneth also Puts a lot of effort into trying to kill Rafe, a cousin to both him and Saiceth and is quite nasty and quick to use Fantastic Racism when they meet.
    • Garameno, Jiramondi and Greggorio are cousins who throw occasional barbs at each other and suspect each other of some sinister deeds but aren't that hostile or back-stabbing to each other.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Kayle Dochenza. It's implied that all elay people are this to a certain degree.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Corene freely admits this in the second book.
  • Dumb Muscle: Taro Frothen looks like he's this.
  • Elemental Powers / Personality Powers
  • Establishing Character Moment: Chandran, the merchant Leah thought she would be bribing to help her, poisons her in order to find out whether her motive in gaining access to Corene is ill- or well-meant.
  • Fiery Redhead: Alys, full stop. Her daughter, Corene is a kinder version. Bonus points for them both being sweela, making them "fiery" in more than one sense.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Corene and Josetta, respectively. Nelson's sons Rhan and Kurtis, with the former sleeping and flirting his way around Welce while the latter is the mature Ardelay heir.
  • Forced Out of the Closet: Jiramondi didn't come out by choice; he was revealed when Filomara's steward caught him in a compromising position.
  • The Good Chancellor: Darien Serlast. So good that by the end of Royal Airs, he's king in all but name, soon to receive the name too.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Alys, King Vernon's cruel and manipulative third wife.
  • Gold Digger: The only reason Alys married her second husband is because he's a second or third cousin of King Vernon and the immediate heir after Vernon's one biological daughter, who Alys had just discovered was mentally unfit to be queen.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: It's shown that Alys, who is not a "good" girl, isn't above wanting a "miscarriage" for any pregnancy which is suddenly inconvenient.
  • Good Samaritan: Rafe's first scene has him saving Corene form some unsavory types in a tavern. A variant is also used in a later scene where he doesn't clean out some inexperienced gamblers (a farming family), only winning small bets before convincing them that it will be safer for their money to play in a better part of town against other amateurs.
  • Good Stepmother: Gender Flipped with Bors, the second husband of Rafe's mother who provided for him decently and is willing to listen to him and provide decent advice.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Alys is unpleasant to everyone, but this deserves special mention as 75%+ of her vitriol towards Zoe stems from the fact that she still considers Darien Serlast her territory.
  • Hero of Another Story: Ghyaneth's cousin is never seen, but he mentions that she and her husband have been working to counter his plans to kill her to avoid a Succession Crisis. Ghyaneth claims that she's not exactly a hero and is just as ruthless as he is, but the truth of this claim is debatable.
  • Hidden Backup Prince: Rafe Adova, twice over. Naturally this makes Steff, his brother, one too.
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Darien's attraction to Zoe. Highlighted by the fact that he's hunti (unyielding), and she's coru (contrary).
  • Information Broker: The three "Seers" of the city, women who collect information from anyone who comes to see them in exchange for gold or more information that they'll trade to anyone who specifically asks them.
  • Inter-Class Romance: Josetta, Princess of Welec, and Rafe Adova, a penniless gambler although they discover he's actually a Prince of both Malinqua and Berringey.
    • Corene and Foley are a straight example, as he's her bodyguard and initially refuses to admit his feelings for her because of the massive class difference.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Foley and Josetta eventually settle into something like this.
  • The Lost Lenore: Greggorio was in love with a local aristocratic girl and is described as a bit less lively since she disappeared, while being devastated when she's found dead.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: The people trying to kill Josetta in Troubled Waters invoke this to cover their trail.
  • Not Blood Siblings: In a completely nonsexual example, Josetta, Corene, and Natalie don't share a single drop of blood.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Taro Frothen, although it's less acting stupid, and more looking stupid and not bothering to correct anyone who buys it.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: The first time when Darien looks really surprised, unprepared and flustered in the series is when He gets told that the other primes will make him the new king.
  • Pair the Spares: Jewelled Fire seems set up like this with four potential heirs (Garameno, Greggorio, Jiramondi and Steff) and four potential brides (Corene, Melissande, Liramelli and Alette) and just a question of who is paired with who. However it's only played half straight. Steff and Liramelli are the only pair to get together romantically and Jiramondi and Melissande marry out of convenience, agreeing they'll both have other relationships. Corene and Alette end up with completely different people from their home countries (their bodyguard and old friend respectively), while Greggorio is killed and Garameno remains single.
  • Papa Wolf: Darien Serlast to Josetta and Corene from Royal Airs onward. Of course, he actually is Corene's father.
  • Parents as People: Zoe adored her father and struggles to find a man who can match up to his force of personality, while also realizing that he lied to her almost her whole life. He forced her to go into exile with him so he wouldn't be alone, made her believe her mother's family wanted nothing to do with her and cheated on his wife. She even admits that had he lived she might have cut off contact with him because of those discoveries, but because he's already gone she has to make peace with his memory.
    • To a lesser extent Seterre - Josetta's mother - can be petty and self-absorbed, but genuinely loves and supports her daughter.
  • People Puppet: There's compelling evidence that the coru Prime has this power, and it's implied that the other Primes do as well.
  • Politically Active Princess: Since King Vernon lacks a male heir, eldest-daughter Josetta has been raised to be this, even though she hates it and has no natural talent for it. Corene does discover an interest in diplomacy, despite her dislike of court intrigue.
  • Prince Charmless: Prince Ghyaneth of Berringey, who spends his visit in Welce criticizing every aspect of the country and boasting about how many other heirs of his own country he's killed.
  • Professional Gambler: Rafe Adova when we first meet him.
  • The Professor: Kayle Dochenza, inventing cars, gaslight, and airplanes, based on his powers over air itself as the elay prime. He's also noted to look as if he's practically homeless, dressed in rags and skinny due to forgetting to eat because he's too busy working.
  • Puppet King: King Vernon has become increasingly weak-minded due to the effects of the medicine keeping him alive, and the true power behind the throne is Darien. A positive example as Darien is incredibly capable, has the best interests of Welce at heart and takes on the role out of necessity rather than personal ambition.
  • Rags to Riches: Zoe constantly zigzags this trope. She grows up in a wealthy family as the daughter of the King's advisor, is forced to go into exile with almost nothing, then she's chosen to be one of the King's wives, then she runs away, lives in the slums on the river flats and works as a shop girl and finally discovers she's head of one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in the country, and marries the regent.
  • Rebellious Princess: Both Josetta and Corene, albeit in different ways.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Zoe and Darien, respectively. Corene and Josetta in a sibling example.
  • Royal Brat: Corene and Natalie both have shades of this, the former in the first book and the latter in the second.
    • Alys is perfectly straight, adult, royal-by-marriage example.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Several examples.
    • Elidon, in contrast to the other three Queens, is heavily involved in the running of Welce and is one of the King's closest advisers beside Darien. And is the only wife to stay on at court after Vernon's death.
    • Josetta is inspired to send aid to Chialto's slums by Zoe in Troubled Waters, and has established and personally runs her own homeless shelter in Royal Airs. She's even looking to expand.
    • Corene in Jewelled Fire discovers she's far more adept at policy and negotiation than she thought, and decides to serve as Welchin ambassador.
    • Garameno is his aunts economic advisor and Jiramondi handles most of Malinqua's diplomatic affairs.
    • Darien inverts this, as he was a non-royal who governed the country for years and was so effective the Primes named him King despite not being a direct heir, making it a case of actually doing something to become a royal.
  • Settled for Gay: Jiramondi (who is gay) and Melissande (bisexual) agree to marry out of convenience: He gets to live somewhere more accepting while she gets control over who she marries and a degree of respectability, knowing that they're both actually going to be seeing other people.
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Rafe might as well have Josetta-shaped blinders on for all the attention he pays other women.
    • People thought Josetta's guard Foley also suffered from this. Nope, he's just a very devoted bodyguard. Played straight with his feelings for Corene however.
  • Skewed Priorities: When Kayle is told that Rafe is in danger from Bergerry assassin due to being one of their heirs his first reaction is too cheerfully state that this means Rafe is unlikely to go back to Bergerry and will probably stay on as his test pilot.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: The last king of Malinqua declared himself Emperor before trying to conquer all of his neighbors to form an empire. He failed to add a single one of them to his kingdom but the new title stuck.
  • Succession Crisis: A lot of Welce's political problems stem from this. There are heirs even if three out of four of them aren't actually the king's children, but choosing the right one is giving the Primes an ungodly number of migraines. Then, when they finally get a legitimate heir, she winds up having a mental disorder that renders her incapable of functioning in society, much less ruling it, starting the whole mess all over again.
    • Berringey has a uniquely bloody approach to avoiding these. Once the king has an heir, his siblings, cousins and their children are expected to commit suicide or be murdered.
    • Malinqua is suffering a succession crisis of its own, as the empress's direct descendants are all dead until her grandson shows up and none of her nephews have been officially named heir. Each nephew has a "flaw" that makes the choice a fraught one: Garameno is in a wheelchair, causing people to look down on him as not a "whole" man; Jiramondi is gay, making him an "abomination" to homophobic Malinquan society; and Greggorio is charming but none too bright.
  • Spoiled Sweet: Greggorio is dense and shallow but is described as not having an "ounce of cruelty" and saves Alette's life on two occasions.
  • Suddenly Suitable Suitor: Rafe agonizes over falling for Josetta, as he's sure an aimless gambler would never be allowed to court a Princess. Luckily it turns out he's a lost Prince of Malinqua and of Berringey.
  • Sugary Malice: Alys loves to play this card, even to her own daughter when Corene is explaining to her that she has moved out because of her stepfather's attempts to rape her. Until Corene tells her that she has publicly declared her accusations, Alys is still trying to persuade her that it's not so bad to have his attentions, essentially trying to teach her daughter to follow in her footsteps.
  • Tranquil Fury: Zoe's anger has degrees. She's perfectly capable of giving you a verbal smackdown if she thinks you deserve one, but if you're stupid enough to go so far as to press her Berserk Button, her rage goes from fiery-hot to icy-cold, and she will calmly and serenely completely flood your city. Or boil your blood. Or rupture an aneurysm in your brain. Whatever strikes her fancy.
  • Un-Sorcerer: Rafe is the one individual in Welce with no Elemental Blessings - his draw is consistently three ghost blessings or, if ghosts aren't an option, the three unaligned blessings.
    • Visitors to Welce have varying shades of this: Prince Ghyaneth and the prince of the Karkades draw mostly ghost blessings, while Empress Filomara and Chandran draw normal blessings.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Liramelli and Greggorio were friends as kids and were briefly engaged before someone prettier stole him away.
  • Villain of Another Story: Alette's father killed five of his own children (and the mother of the most recent victim for good measure) for such offenses as failing to secure a marriage alliance. His remaining children are terrified of his long reach and murderous temper, but he's uninvolved in the primary intrigue of the story.
  • When She Smiles: The normally serious Liramelli is almost unrecognizable when she shows real happiness.
  • The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask: Elidon, King Vernon's chief wife, has shades of this.