Mystic and Rider (2005) is the first Fantasy novel in The Twelve Houses series. Gillengaria is ruled by a king, but the Marlords of the Twelve Houses control most of the land and commerce. If the king dies without heirs, a new king will be chosen from the Twelve Houses.
Mystics in Gillengaria have various talents and are often distrusted and even hated due to these unusual abilities. Senneth is a mystic, but different from all others whom she knows. She can control fire, bathing herself in it if she wishes, a daughter of the sun goddess.
Senneth is sometimes called the King's Mystic since she started doing missions for him. This time she has other mystics with her, Kirra and Donnal, who are shapeshifters, and Cammon, who is a sensitive. She is also accompanied by two King's Riders, who do not trust her at first.
In this novel, Senneth's party takes a side excursion into Dormas to free Cammon from indenture. His family had been overseas when his father died. He and his mother took ship to return to Gillengaria, but she died enroute. The ship's captain sold him to a tavern keeper to pay for their passage.
Once freed and escorted safely away from the town, Senneth starts teaching Cammon ways to use his mystical abilities. He begins to notice that he can perceive things without the use of his normal senses. Although Senneth has duties to perform at the present, she decides to introduce Cammon to some of her sensitive friends as soon as possible.
In a small town, the group discovers a strange phenomenon. Something is killing small animals and even a child and a passed out drunk. Senneth recognizes something familiar in the situation. After gathering more information, she decides that the killer is a raelynx, a wild cat from the Lirrenlands. Senneth sets out at night and lures the raelynx to her and then controls its mind and body. Despite a few protests, Senneth takes the raelynx with them on their mission, much like she included Cammon in the group.
In this story, Senneth is the nominal leader of the group, but encourages the others to contribute their ideas. Although it is her mission, Tayse is the actual leader for daily affairs and defensive decisions. In a sense, Senneth is the strategist and Tayse is the tactician.
Senneth and Tayse have to work together rather frequently and closely. Since she is not a King's Rider, Tayse doesn't trust her, but he beginning to have less distrust. Justin, the other Rider, also begins to respect her ability and judgment.
The group finds numerous indications of hatred toward mystics, from social disapproval to outright murder. The further south they travel, the worst the situation looks. They begin to hear more and more about the Daughters of the Pale Mother and their preaching against mystics. They also hear about the soldiers following the Pale Mother. Moreover, the southern Houses are beginning to expand their household troops.
Senneth and Kirra occasionally meet with the Marlords and discuss their views on mystics and the king. They find that the southern nobles are angry over the potential succession problem of the kingdom. King Baryn has only one daughter, Amalie, and she has been secluded for several years. Amalie's mother had died fairly recently and the King remarried shortly thereafter; some rumors said that the new Queen is a mystic.
Senneth is determined to push on to Gisseltess lands before she returns to Ghosenhall, the royal capital. The others suggest that she turn back sooner, but she is the mission leader and they follow her. Even when they encounter armed bands searching for them, they follow her. Even when Tayse is captured by hostile soldiers, they follow her. By this time, they have become a close-knit team and she is the leader.
Highly recommended for Shinn fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of magical talents, close combat, social encounters and a bit of romance.
-Arthur W. Jordin