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A series of novels by the fairly notable Sharon Shinn (most notable for the Arch Angel series), it follows the adventures of an Ragtag Bunch of Misfits, who have been sent on a mysterious quest by the king to tour the southern lands of the kingdom, where having magic is a death-worthy crime. The misfits include Senneth, who can call fire, Kirra, who can shift shapes and heal people, Donnal, whose main power, although able to shift shapes, is mainly to follow Kirra (he is the only character whose point of view has not yet been used), and Cammon, a mind-reader. The 'mystics' are joined by the 'Riders' (natch), Tayse and Justin, who are around to make sure no-one lynches the mystics. (Mind you, no-one has yet tried to lynch Senneth and succeeded. For good reason). Later, they are also joined by Ellynor, another healer, and Amalie, a Rebellious Princess you can actually like. Additionally, an new book has been written in the same world, following up on the story of one of the ragtag bunch's friends.

Well, yes , it does sound like your ten-a-penny fantasy clap-trap, but distinguishes itself by being well-written and genuinely funny. Especially the bits with Justin.

The first four books each follow one romance, and one swathe of the truly massive plot: Mystic and Rider, the first book, has all of the characters meet, and Senneth and Tayse fall in love; The Thirteenth House is Kirra and Donnal, although not until the last few chapters - mainly, it's plot-heavy, interspersed with Kirra's affair with a married nobleman (so much better than it sounds); Dark Moon Defender, often called the weakest of the original four, follows Justin as he falls in love with Ellynor, although obviously the others have to turn up and be completely Badass; and Reader and Raelynx, the fourth book, cranks the Kudzu Plot Up to Eleven, while also featuring the sweetest romance Shinn has ever written between The Empath Cammon and Rebellious Princess Amalie.

Although each book has a focal character (Mystic and Rider arguably has two, as Senneth and Tayse are both given close third-person narration), the feeling of True Companions is extraordinary, and mentioned often by the characters. Senneth and Tayse, who were each pretty badass on their own, make an almost unstoppable Battle Couple - being the best mystic ever and the best Rider ever will have that effect - and tend to steal any scene they turn up in with their mixture of dry humor and complete ass-kick-ery. Clearly the author agrees with the fans; when Shinn tried to write a fifth novel set in the same world, she intended not to use the original characters and start a new Myth Arc. This did not work - Senneth and Tayse were just too awesome to ignore, and so as the book progresses, their subplot quickly becomes the main plot. This makes for a fairly unsettling book, and Fortune and Fate is widely considered the weakest by a long way.

Tropes used in Twelve Houses include:

  • Abusive Parents: Senneth's father. A lot. He killed her newborn son because he was a mystic.
  • Aerith and Bob: All over the place. Riders named Justin and Tayse. Malcolm naming his daughters Kirra and Casserah. Nobles whose names range from Martin, Eloise, and Ariane to Els, Coralinda, and Karryn to Halchon, Baryn, and Heffel. The most egregious example is probably the Brassenthwaites, with siblings named Kiernan, Nate, Will, Harris... and Senneth.
  • Action Girl: Senneth, and, to a lesser extent, Kirra, and to a lesser extent, Amalie.
    • And then Wen in Fortune and Fate.
  • Always Save the Girl: Tayse. And Justin. Much.
  • And Now You Must Marry Me: Halchon Gisseltess's plan when he captures Senneth in Reader and Raelynx.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Everyone, all the time. Most of them angst about it afterwards.
  • Berserk Button: Tayse goes loopy when anyone hurts Senneth.
  • Beta Couple: Kirra and Donnal in the first book, then Senneth and Tayse from there on in.
  • Broken Bird: Senneth has a bit of this going on.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Played with in "Dark Moon Defender", when Kirra, Senneth and Ellynor sit together. Sort of.
  • Brought Down to Badass: Senneth loses her mystic fire power after the Final Battle, but even without it she still fights nearly as well as a Rider. As of Fortune and Fate, which takes place two years later, she has started to regain her power.
  • The Charmer: Kirra. She once said it herself: "Charm better be enough, because that and hair are all I've got."
  • Cool Old Guy: King Baryn.
  • Daddy's Girl: Ceribel.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Justin. Enough that the other characters mention it.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Let's count them, shall we? Senneth, abusive parents, dead son. Tayse, emotionally distant father. Justin, Disappeared Dad, whore mother, grew up on the streets. Cammon, orphan, ex-slave. Amalie, dead mom, never allowed to have human connections with anyone. Kirra, wild, beautiful and violent. Donnal, masochistic when it comes to Kirra.
  • First-Name Basis: Averted, because no-one in Gillengaria has a surname. This group has the last name basis vibe about them, though.
    • Actually this is played straight, as all of the nobles (Senneth Brassenthwaite, Jasper Paladar, etc.), as well as the people of the Lirrens (Ellynor Alowa), have surnames, but they are rarely if ever referred to by them.
  • Five-Man Band:
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Mainly averted, but Amalie's hair is mentioned quite often.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Justin, on the cover of "Dark Moon Defender".
  • Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory: A hilarious in-universe example. Senneth thinks that mystics are descended from the goddesses of Gilengaria. Then Justin calls her out on it, in a typical Deadpan Snarker kinda way.
  • Foreshadowing: Senneth's comments about marrying Kirra into Brassenthwaite, and about Kiernan turn about to be about her own brothers.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Senneth. Although hers is a particularly weird case.
  • Lonely Funeral Baryn.
  • Lovable Sex Maniac: Kirra, although since this is Swords and Sorcery, probably just Lovable Flirt Machine.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: No Rider has ever betrayed his King/Queen, even if he/she was someone who deserved betrayal.
  • Non-Idle Rich: Kirra, who is basically a princess, decides to be a wanderer/mercenary/lioness.
  • No Social Skills: Cammon, because he was raised outside of Gillengaria.
  • Odd Couple: Justin and Ellynor.
  • One of Our Own: When Tayse is kidnapped, and then when Senneth gets shot.
  • Only Sane Man: Senneth, when the younger ones are all arguing. But then she goes and sets someone on fire.
  • Power Nullifier: Moonstones have this effect on mystics, to the point where prolonged contact can kill the mystic.
    • Halchon Gisseltess also has this effect on Senneth.
  • Rebellious Princess: Amalie, most notably, but also Kirra, who juggles being a serramarra with being a lion, and Senneth, who ran away from home.
  • Running Gag: That they will all fall in love with really inapropriate people. Which they do. Senneth, a serramarra, and Tayse, a glorified soldier; Kirra, a serramarra-ier serramarra, and Donnal, a peasant; Justin, a glorified soldier, and Ellynor, an over-sheltered Lirren girl; and Cammon, a peasant, and Amalie, princess/Queen of Gillengaria. And it all works out.
  • Secret Test of Character: What some fans think Baryn was doing sending the Ragtag Bunch of Misfits to find out things that he already knew.
  • Spoiled Brat: What Wen believes sixteen-year-old Karryn Fortunalt is at the beginning of Fortune and Fate. As the story goes on, Wen (and the audience) learns that her late father's emotional abuse and Cloudcuckoolander mother's distance have left Karryn very insecure and unsure of her own worth. By the end of the book, Karryn is much more Spoiled Sweet than Spoiled Brat.
  • Suddenly-Suitable Suitor: When a noblewoman reveals him to be her long-lost son, Cammon is suddenly able to marry Princess Amalie. Subverted in that Cammon is not actually the noble's son, and the entire point of the deception was so that he and Amalie could marry.
  • Take That: The wow-so-subtle message against discrimination.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Examined. Tayse and Justin, and to a lesser extent Senneth, are all fighting machines, but they are also the heroes, and even squeamish Kirra kills people with wild abandon when she's a lion.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Senneth and Kirra.
  • Two Girls to a Team: Again, Senneth and Kirra among the original six companions.
  • Unwanted Spouse: Villain Halchon Gisseltess does not hide the fact that he wants to get rid of his wife Sabina so that he can marry Senneth.
  • UST: Shinn's MO anyway, and particularly bad between Kirra and Donnal. All four novels/couples have this in spades.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Averted with Kirra's stepmother, Jannis, who is implied to have always treated Kirra well even though she is a mystic.
    • Also averted with Queen Valri, who is rather stoic but cares deeply about her stepdaughter Amalie.