Sunbolt (The Sunbolt Chronicles #1)
Purple Monkey Press, 2013
As an illegal Rogue Promise, Hitomi must conceal her magical aptitude, for fear of being forced to devote her abilities to exacting the will of the rich and powerful. By day, she hides among the struggling merchants of Karolene, but by night, she works with an outlaw legend known only as the Ghost, to protect the few dissenters who remain. When she’s captured by their enemies, she’ll have to cooperate with a Breather, a life-draining creature she once thought of as nothing but a nightmare monster, to survive. And even if they manage to escape, she might never make it back to the life she remembers.
Sunbolt is the first book of its series, but it feels structurally like the transitional middle of a trilogy. We meet Hitomi as an established member of the Shadow League, with its own internal personality conflicts and its work already in progress. All too soon, she’s separated from her allies and sent instead on a buddy road trip adventure, spending much of it unconscious or weakened from magic use.
I often found myself wishing I could go back and read a nonexistent previous book about her time in the Shadow League. Not because such a book is necessary to understand or appreciate this one, but because the taste we get of that story was my favorite part. I’m crossing my fingers that we get more of the League in future installments.
I read Khanani’s debut, Thorn, about a year ago and liked it a lot, so The Sunbolt Chronicles have been on my radar for a while, and I’m wishing I hadn’t dragged my feet so long. Sunbolt is the first series opener in quite a while that’s made me need to buy the next book right now.
Hitomi is an instant favorite, charmingly bumbling and resourceful at once. Nothing ever goes quite the way she plans, but she keeps on adapting on the fly until something works. She’s heroic and confident in her worthiness to be the one to tackle any given problem, but self-preservation still kicks in often enough to saddle her with some weighty moral grayness.
As was the case in Thorn, the fantasy world is drawn with efficient but vivid lines. The details are right where they need to be to make the story come alive, and invisible where they would get in the way. Scenes of magic are surprisingly dynamic. There are only so many ways authors can describe swirling patterns of light and psychic exhaustion, but Khanani manages to make even Hitomi’s spellcraft challenges interesting and different, especially when they involve conversations with birds.
There’s no love story in Sunbolt, and while I won’t be disappointed if there turns out to be one later in the series (Hitomi left a few interesting men back in Karolene that I’m hoping to meet again), it’s always refreshing to watch a heroine, especially of a YA fantasy, focus entirely on other things for a change.
All in all, though I’m hoping to get back to what the Shadow League’s up to eventually, I expect I’ll gladly follow Hitomi wherever she goes.
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