Memories of Ash (The Sunbolt Chronicles #2)
By Intisar Khanani
Purple Monkey Press, 2016
(See also my review of The Sunbolt Chronicles #1)
With most of her memories scorched away by the sunbolt she cast to save her friend Val, Hitomi is slowly working to rebuild her life with the help of her magical mentor, Stormwind. When Stormwind is summoned before the High Council of Mages on what Hitomi can only imagine to be trumped-up charges, she has to summon every trick she knows, from both her old life and her new one, to attempt a bold prison break.
Much like the first book, Memories of Ash is oddly structured, leading from one place to another as much as it follows the dramatic arc at hand. The experience of reading it is more like watching a Netflix season than reading an installment in a series of novels. Characters come and go, their significance seeming as flexible as if there were actors’ contracts to consider. Major plot threads are introduced, not just hinted at but explored for major sections of the book, and then left for a later entry without even temporary resolution.
Though the unconventional rhythm is frustrating in places, I personally didn’t mind too much, because each step in the story’s meandering course is engrossing in its own way.
The heist/prison break/courtroom drama at the center of this installment is especially hard to put down, mingling Hitomi’s criminal tricks, her varied collection of allegiances, and the unique mechanics of magic in her world into a tensely compelling thrillride.
The appearances of Hitomi’s lost mother are haunting, understated, and complicated. There may be more yet to come in her story and in their relationship, but if she never surfaces again, their encounter in this book would be perfect even in its gaping incompleteness.
Above all, I can never praise enough Khanani’s successful creation and maintaining of a fascinating pacifist hero. Hitomi’s refusal to take life under any circumstances would normally be a phase a hero goes through before returning to normal, or a nearly irrelevant quirk that comes up sporadically between scene upon scene of action that easily could kill unfortunate bad guys and bystanders but conveniently never does. Hitomi’s personal moral code is an ever-present core element of who she is, and it makes the solutions she comes up with all the more creative and interesting.
I do I hope to see some of the hanging plot threads resolved in future books, but I’m thoroughly on board to find out.
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