Friday, 28 December 2018
#CBR10 Book 107: "Starless" by Jacqueline Carey
Audio book length: 21 hrs 41 mins
Rating: 4 stars
Khai was destined from birth to become the Shadow of the Sun-blessed princess Zaryia. Both born during the same eclipse, Khai was the child who caught the hawk's feather thrown by the selected priestess, thus confirming that he was the chosen one. Raised by warrior priests deep in the desert, Khai is trained in all the deadly arts of stealth and fighting, and gets his first chance to kill a man at age nine. He hones all his abilities to become the very best Shadow to his soul's twin, destined to guard and protect her against all evil. Yet when he nears puberty, Khai makes a startling discovery, and needs to reassess everything he previously believed about himself and his identity.
When Khai passes the trials necessary to confirm him as the Sun-blessed princess' Shadow, he makes his way to the court of the king and finally meets Zaryia. The soul twins both feel like they've found the missing piece of themselves, and together have to navigate the gossip and deadly intrigue of the royal family. Zaryia is a scholar and dreams of being a prophecy hunter, but that seems unlikely, living the sheltered life in court that she does. Unexpectedly, however, while preparing for Zariya's betrothal, the princess and the young warrior find themselves and their lives taking an entirely new path - one of adventure and mystery, danger and fellowship.
The dark god Miasmus is rising in the west, and Zaryia and Khai are two of the individuals destined to help stop him from covering the world in death and destruction. If the prophecy hunters succeed, the stars could return to the heavens once more. If they fail, the world will end.
Kushiel's Dart, Jacqueline Carey's debut novel, is still one of my favourite fantasy novels of all time. So the discovery that her most recent novel was a completely stand-alone fantasy, a full book, no interminable waiting for sequels for years and years, was very welcome. The non-western setting of this book was also a pleasant surprise, and the identity crisis our protagonist Khai has to go through over the course of the novel was also interesting.
I listened to this book in audio, and according to Goodreads, it took me about five months to get through the book, so it's difficult for me to say exactly how long the various parts were. The early parts of the book, Khai's upbringing in the Fortress of the Winds with the Brotherhood of Pahrkuhn was all very engaging, if somewhat slow at times. The section at the Court at Merabaht and the backstabbing and intrigue there was probably the least interesting. It felt like the book spent too long dealing with Khai's childhood and every single detailed aspect of his training, then there was a lull when he got to court, only for the plot to get almost too hurried towards its conclusion and the big "saving the world" conclusion. We don't really get a chance to properly get to know the band of adventurers that Zaryia and Khai are destined to fight Miasmus with. Their whole quest happens too quickly and because we've spent too much of the book in the desert, or with the decadent court in Merabaht, we also don't invest enough in the various characters who find themselves in danger, nor care when some of them inevitably perish before the quest reaches its conclusion.
While I really like Khai, and the various Brothers of Pahrkuhn, I found Zaryia and her many excessive endearments a bit grating. Seriously, she calls everyone "my darling", as is pretty much everyone, from the servants to casual acquaintances, to her close and actual beloved family. I think I also would have preferred it if the relationship between her and Khai remained extremely close, but platonic - the romantic development felt forced and a bit tacked on.
As always, the world-building is excellent and as I mentioned earlier, I really liked that the book takes place in a non-western setting, with a middle eastern/islamic feel to the first half, and the bits at sea taking place in what I imagined to be a sort of Pacific island style place. Sadly, because the final third or so, when they go on their adventure, is so hurried, a lot of the later locations aren't given their proper due, the reader doesn't get the same detailed feel for them as the earlier settings in the desert and the court.
This wasn't a bad book, by any means, and I am deeply thankful that the story was wrapped up in one book, no matter how rocky some of the structuring and characterisation was. It kept failing to really hold my attention, though, which (coupled with the fact that I've had a lot on my plate for the latter half of the year) probably accounts for the fact that it took me just so long to get through the audio. I was enjoying the book when I actually listened to it, but never felt any compelling need to pick it back up again and progress, so it took months and months to get though. I may have liked it more if I'd read it in a more compressed time line. Still, it gets four stars for the ambitious world-building and the strides it makes for non-traditional representation. The characters are people of a variety of nationalities and colour, there's various gender identities and sexual preferences among them, one protagonist is disabled (and doesn't get magically healed at any point in the book, either). Well worth a read, if not as gripping to me as the Kushiel books.
Judging a book by its cover: The cover is pretty, and allows the reader to project a lot of their own ideas onto it. There's a number of falling stars, lighting up the sky in the background and falling to the dark earth below. In this book, the gods are physical entities who appear among people. They were once stars in the heavens, but fell (I don't remember entirely why). The skies are dark, except for the sun and the multiple moons. An ancient prophecy speaks of how the stars may be returned to the heavens - that's part of what this book is all about.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.