September 27th, 2016

Underrated SF/F: Shrouded by Frances Pauli

And here we are again. Another science-fiction book that deserves a little bit more love. Now, with the past few, I covered books that, while definitely underrated in their own ways, were still books that have some level of familiarity in the wider world. But today, I want to bring something up that’s a little more modern, and from an author with a lot less name recognition than she deserves. While I basically love all of her work, I do have a very big soft-spot for this one in particular. And with the re-release of the series, there’s no better time to shine some light on it.


This is Shrouded by Frances Pauli.

Now, this book has a little bit of a story along with it. It was originally published a few years back by a small press out of Washington State. A small press with lots of big ideas and attractive contracts. But because publishing is a brutal business, that press eventually went the way of too many others. So the first three books in the series were recovered, reformatted, and rereleased.

And I love them. Taking inspiration from the works of Ursula K. Le Guin (Here’s looking at you, Left Hand of Darkness.) and combining that high-minded, social science fiction with the sort of imagery and word-craft I’ve come to expect from high-fantasy authors like Catherynne Valente and Scott Lynch, Pauli manages something unique with this work. It walks clearly on the science fiction side of the fence, but every now and then, it climbs that fence to take a peek at how the fantasy side lives.

Spoilers Start Here

We open with Vassia fleeing, trying to get off planet and away from her father. That leads her to the excursion of a lifetime, to the mysterious planet of Shroud. Mysterious and… strange. The Shrouded are all men, which is why they bring in brides. Brides like Vassia and the other women she traveled there with. And they are ruled by the power of the Heartstone, which finds perfect matches. Heartmates, as they’re called. Two people destined to be together.

On top of this, Shroud is also a valuable economic planet. It’s loaded with gem deposits, and anyone who can work their way into that will be working their way into a lot of money. That, along with his daughter, inevitably draws Vassia’s very powerful father to the planet of Shroud.

And at a bad time. They’re in need of a new heir, and the Heartstone, which should be selecting from one of the viable princes, is instead being… difficult. Every prince is feeling drawn to the same woman: Vassia. That definitely shouldn’t be happening. One heartmate, and that’s all. Something is very much amiss, and there are a lot of cooks in this particular kitchen.

Spoilers End Here

Shrouded—and in fact, all of the Heartstone books—are beautiful works of science fiction, and in the general glut of available books out there these days, they absolutely deserve more attention than they’ve been able to get. There are a small handful of authors I read religiously, and Frances Pauli is right in there with all of my other favorites. I would absolutely recommend Shrouded to anyone… just anyone. Period.

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