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"You think that pain is a vacuum. You think it sucks you dry and leaves you hollow and empty. You think it will take so much more time, so much more effort, to fill up that empty place again. You don't think you can do it. But I tell you, pain is a vise. It clamps down on you. Everything you once were, everything you once had, is still inside you, small and squeezed and crushed flat. If you can break that vise, if you can move and stretch and open up again, all those things inside you will expand, will come back to life. You will feel everything again, once you give yourself room to feel."

Cowen Drake in Wrapt in Crystal by Sharon Shinn

There's no future in loving people who are hurt. If you heal them, they don't need you anymore. If you don't heal them, they destroy you.
Laura de Vayo in Wrapt in Crystal by Sharon Shinn

All that I know of human love is that it is a dagger in the heart. Even death seems kinder.

Laura de Vayo in Wrapt in Crystal by Sharon Shinn

I've loved Sharon Shinn's books from the first time I picked up Archangel in my favorite second-hand bookstore. That was a serendipitous moment in itself, for I had just dropped by that day to kill time before meeting someone and hadn't even planned on buying any books, especially not at the price that copy of Archangel went for.

But I idly picked up that black paperback with the stylized angel on the cover, and read a few words, and couldn't put it down. I debated with myself for a moment whether to abandon it and come back for it another day, when perhaps it would be marked down to a more affordable price. But I just had to find out what would happen to Rachel, that stubborn, indomitable angelica. So, ruthlessly breaking my budget, I walked out of the store with the book.

That night, the mall burned, and the store with it.

When I think of how narrowly I missed Archangel, I still get the goosebumps. It ranks among my most favorite books; Raheli sia a Manderra, ve a Edori, among my most favorite characters.

The book evoked for me a little of "Chariots of the Gods" with its tale of the planet Samaria, and its people, both mortals and winged beings called "angels," who can sing divinely. (I know crackpot theories are crackpot theories, but they make the most delightful premises for fantasy and sci-fi anyway.) There are numerous biblical allusions throughout the book, and yes, the planet's highest authority is the Archangel, who is chosen by Jovah to reign for a time. All the characters have biblical names as well. Aside from the three regions of Samaria, there is also a fabled land called Ysral, which the oppressed Edori people view as a land of promise if only they could build boats strong enough to cross the ocean to find it.

I've got Archangel so far, and Angelica, and Angel-Seeker, and am missing Jovah's Angel and The Alleluia Files. And yes, The Shape-Changer's Wife, which I am given to believe is Sharon Shinn's first book and a really good one. Of her stories not set in Samaria, I also have Jenna Starborn, which is Jane Eyre in space (and very well-written too!) and Wrapt in Crystal.

Crystal is the story of a galactic police officer sent to the planet Semay to investigate the serial murders of priestesses belonging to the planet's two major religions. It's not as sexy as it seems, as the priestesses are very devout and have no idea why they are being killed off one by one. The officer, Special Assignment Officer (abbreviated to Sayo) Cowen Drake, gradually finds that the murders might be related to the disappearance of a young priestess from the Triumphante sect named Diadeloro, while he finds himself getting attracted to another priestess from the Fidele sect named Laura.

As usual, religion is the undercurrent that runs through Shinn's work. But while out-and-out evangelization tends to make me run away screaming, Shinn simply and unobtrusively makes you take another look at faith. No wonder hers are just about the only books dealing with the subject that doesn't give me hives. Well, aside from Archangel Protocol, of course.

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