Heroes Return is the fifth book in this series, which starts with Resenting the Hero. The books have terrible covers, particularly the first two. Ignore the covers. The books themselves are quite interesting.
Despite the covers' attempts to make the series look like wacky, wacky fairy-tale fantasies, the books are much more SFnal than fantasy, or they were until the last two books when magic starts getting more attention. Briefly, this is a world beset by dangerous natural disasters--earthquakes, typhoons, erupting volcanoes--that are severe enough and common enough that they would destroy civilization if it weren't for Sources and Shields. Sources are people with the ability to channel natural disasters and dissipate them harmlessly, while Shields keep the Sources from being ripped apart in the process. Sources and Shields work best when bonded for life.
It's a fascinating concept, and the main reason why I keep reading. The books follow Shield Dunleavy Mallorough--Lee--and her Source, Shintaro Karish, known as Taro. Lee is the calm one of the duo, while Taro is often fretful and emotional. In fact, since Shields tend to have slightly dulled senses and placid demeanors, Lee makes for an interesting main character. I can never really be sure if her inability to notice bad guys acting blatantly is a result of her character--in which case Moore is a brilliant writer--or if it's just clumsy characterization. I go back and forth on it. It's certainly frustrating. I do long for the day when Lee stops just thinking those snappish thoughts and actually starts speaking her mind--please--or hopefully just hauls off and slugs some irritating character in the face.
A lot of the characters in these books are irritating, abrasive, or just plain hateful. I like Lee and Taro (although so much of their issues could be cleared up if only they'd have a meaningful discussion instead of Lee being silent and Taro jumping to conclusions), but I rarely like anyone else. And yet I snap up the next book as soon as it's available--I snagged this one early and have set up this review to run (hopefully) on July 27 when it's officially released--and drop everything else to read it immediately.
Heroes Return is an excellent addition to the series. Lee and Taro have been posted to Taro's distant boyhood home, home to his poisonous mother, the Dowager Duchess. Taro has renounced his title and passed it on to a cousin, but his mother seems convinced she can make him change his mind. This unsettles Lee, who worries about Taro and who really doesn't want to spend the rest of her life in the middle of nowhere too. Not only that, but the Emperor seems convinced that the townsfolk and farmers of the area are working magic illegally and sends his agents to root out and punish practitioners, someone seems to be trying to kill Lee, and Lee and Taro are having trouble channeling the region's earthquakes properly. Unlike several of the previous books, this one kept me guessing about what was really going on. The relationship between Lee and Taro is as usual both sweet and maddening.
The books can be read out of order, but you'll run across a lot of spoilers that way. I recommend the whole series, though.