Published: June 2013 by Purple Monkey Press
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: The Sunbolt Chronicles #1
Genres: Fantasy, YA
Reading Challenges: Once Upon A Time X
Available: Amazon ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Kobo
Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The winding streets and narrow alleys of Karolene hide many secrets, and Hitomi is one of them. Orphaned at a young age, Hitomi has learned to hide her magical aptitude and who her parents really were. Most of all, she must conceal her role in the Shadow League, an underground movement working to undermine the powerful and corrupt Arch Mage Wilhelm Blackflame.
When the League gets word that Blackflame intends to detain—and execute—a leading political family, Hitomi volunteers to help the family escape. But there are more secrets at play than Hitomi’s, and much worse fates than execution. When Hitomi finds herself captured along with her charges, it will take everything she can summon to escape with her life.
Having been impressed by Khanani’s work in Thorn, I knew I needed to check out some of her other stories. Sunbolt is an original novella and the first in the Sunbolt Chronicles. With the sequel coming out next month, I thought Sunbolt would make a good starting point and wasn’t disappointed.
As with Thorn, Khanani does some interesting things with representations of race. Karolene is an island city with a dark-skinned population. The nations to the north are described as pale-skinned and exotic, a description which neatly inverts some racist stereotypes. The villain also inverts these stereotypes, being the most prominent of a very few white characters.
Hitomi herself is Asian, making her stand out in Karolene. She does everything she can to fit in, but her skin and hair will always mark her out as a stranger. This is a particular problem for someone involved in an underground movement. But, more than that, it also alienates her from the place she considers home.
I very much enjoyed Hitomi as a character. Her selfishness and prejudice was balanced out by fierce loyalty and courage. My one quibble is that even though she grows away from her flaws, the short length of the novella made this progress a little fast for my taste, leaving me feeling the emotional arc of the story wasn’t quite solid.
The story kept me on my toes with all its twists and turns. I particularly appreciated the way in which when things begin to go wrong, they go wrong in a very mundane way and snowballs from there. This made it feel realistic to me and it meant that the stakes for Hitomi grew correspondingly.
All in all, Sunbolt was both fast-paced and thought-provoking. I will definitely be seeking out the sequel, Memories of Ash, when it is released in May.