Quatrain is a collection of four novellas, each one set in a different one of Sharon Shinn's worlds. Ranging from fantasy to science fiction, the stories take place in radically different societies, but each novella is a different look at a person trying to find their own place in a world that is not to their liking. Each main character ends up examining their own priorities and their desire to find love and happiness in less than ideal situations. The varied responses to those dilemmas are as different as the characters and the worlds they are set in.
In Quatrain, Sharon Shinn deals sensitively with topics of religion, abuse, intolerance and ethnicity while never letting the issues overwhelm the stories. Shinn is a master wordsmith, evoking lush full-blown characters and fantastical landscapes with a spare prose that is breathtaking in its simplicity. The only story that falters is Gold, a fairly standard fairy tale which falls flat. While beautifully written, the story lacks originality and the characters are two-dimensional. It failed to elicit any emotional connection, instead feeling like a retread of every damsel in distress Disney fairy tale I've ever read. It was insipid, rather than inspired.
However, the other stories all sing with life. I was particularly intrigued by the varied worlds in the other novellas. Flight is set in the world of Sharon Shinn's Samaria novels, populated and ruled by very non-angelic angels that can intercede with deity to protect the people they rule over. However, when very powerful beings with unnaturally high charisma and amazing singing voices need human girls to reproduce, the help with deity comes at a cost. Blood is set in the same world as her novel Heart of Gold, a world that is starting to be racked by cultural conflicts between two very different societies, one matriarchal and one patriarchal. Shinn avoids the overdone themes of gender stereotypes and the evils of patriarchy, and instead delicately explores the differences of the people within a culture, as well as the differences between cultures. The final story in the volume is Flame, a tale of a mystical firestarter who is ostracized by her people even as they call on her for aid. Set in the same world as Shinn's Twelve Houses novels, it is a well-imagined tale of loneliness and belonging.
I highly recommend Quatrain to all young adult and adult readers who like sensitive, beautiful writing with a touch of romance. I know that I will be seeking out more of Sharon Shinn's novels, especially Heart of Gold and those set in her Samaria world after being introduced to them here in such a beautiful manner.