If you’ve been following along with my posts for a while, you’ll know that this year hasn’t been the best time for my reading. And if you’ve been following me for a long time, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of Intisar Khanani’s work. My review of Thorn dates back to the second year of this blog. In the time since then, Thorn was picked up by a major publisher, revised and rereleased last year. The Theft of Sunlight is Khanani’s first full-length work since 2016 and serves as something of a companion novel to Thorn. It also proved the perfect book to bust through my reading slump.
The kingdom of Menaiya has been plagued for years by Snatchers stealing their children. No one knows who these Snatchers are, and those few children who manage to escape risk a curse awakening in their blood that leaves them a husk of their former self. The only cure for this curse also wipes their memory… and any clue as to the identity of the Snatchers. When the sister of a friend is the latest to go missing, Rae decides to travel from her family’s horse ranch to stay with a cousin in the royal court. There, she hopes to persuade someone to investigate properly. Instead, she finds that someone is her when she is recruited to serve as an attendant to the foreign princess about to marry into the Menaiyan royal family.
Thorn and The Theft of Sunlight have something of a complicated relationship. Thorn was a retelling of the Goose Girl set in an original, richly imagined world. The Theft of Sunlight is not a retelling. Instead it has taken the world set up by Thorn and built on it, filling out some of the elements and themes. Although it’s not a direct sequel, the characters of Thorn are still present and get plenty of screen time. The Theft of Sunlight gives enough context that it can stand alone reasonably well. But for a full appreciation of the nuances of what’s going on (and if you care at all about spoilers), I’d highly recommend first reading Thorn and The Bone Knife (a short story included in the 2020 republication of Thorn).
While I enjoyed seeing more of Princess Alyrra and Prince Kestrin, Rae is undeniably the star of the show. She is pragmatic, down-to-earth and deeply loyal. But she does not give that loyalty blindly. Indeed, she has some serious misgivings about serving the Princess after her first day on the job. Even her cousin’s husband is treated with a wary affection, for while she likes him and approves of his deep love of her cousin, Rae is also aware that Lord Filadon is a nobleman through and through, with his own agenda and manipulations.
Rae is not without her flaws, however. She is blunt-spoken and somewhat prickly because she is used to being judged by her disability. She is also aware of her own tendency to be similarly judgemental, particularly when she feels someone is too pretty to be trusted. Her self-awareness and resolve to do better makes her more sympathetic.
As well as continuing the story of some of Thorn‘s characters, The Theft of Sunlight also picks up some of its themes. In particular, it touches on the risks of living as a young woman. It is not always safe to walk the streets alone in certain neighbourhoods; sometimes it’s not even safe in company. This was present in Thorn, too, but The Theft of Sunlight takes it one step further, showing how much of self defence relies on the notion of being able to run. But what does one do when one isn’t able to run?
Another theme that is expanded upon is the rule of law versus the honour of thieves. Both books in the series show a broken justice system where victims are ignored or gaslighted. When the guards aren’t interested in investigating, the protagonists have turned to thieves for help and a more makeshift kind of justice. While this turns out reasonably okay in Thorn, the limitations are highlighted in The Theft of Sunlight. Not all thieves are honourable or loveable (though some definitely are). And in some cases, Rae’s alliance with Red Hawk brought her significantly more trouble.
Issues of justice, human trafficking, abuse and questionable power dynamics aren’t exactly light going. I found them balanced out with the author’s trademark style. While there are some absolutely awful people, her protagonists genuinely care about others. They are concerned with kindness and doing the right thing. Nor are they alone, since there are affectionate moments with many secondary characters. It’s a tone I feel will appeal to fans of The Goblin Emperor and the work of Becky Chambers.
Investigative novels can get a bit bogged down with talking between characters and thinking through the clues. However, the pace here remained good with enough action to keep things lively. The one downside is that the story finished on a terrible cliffhanger, with the sequel not expected until next year.
I can’t wait.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Published: March 2021 by HarperTeen
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi), 528 pages
Series: Dauntless Path #2
Genres: Fantasy YA
Available: Abbey’s ~ Amazon (AU, CA, UK, US) ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Indiebound ~ Kobo