Sunbolt, Intisar Khanani

Note: I received a copy of Sunbolt from the publisher, through NetGalley, for review consideration.

So all the bloggers have been on and on about the wonders of Intisar Khanani, and I finally got the chance to read one of her books (thanks, NetGalley!). Sunbolt is the novella beginning of a new series, about a street thief named Hitomi who’s part of a resistance force against the oppressive sultanate, and who secretly is the daughter of two (deceased) mages and thus a fairly powerful mage in her own right. I’d have already been in at street thief in a non-Europeanish fantasy world, but Khanani went and added secret magical heritage on top of that, and the whole thing became my exact cup of tea.

Let’s start with the (for me) weakest link, the secret magical heritage. When I say “weakest link,” I’d like you to appreciate that I really liked this novella, and “weakest link” isn’t much of an insult within that context. It’s the weakest link because it’s got striking plot similarities — as noted by The Illustrated Page — to one of my favorite books of all time, Robin McKinley’s Sunshine. And so I kept thinking, mmmm, Sunshine, that was a good book, and not focusing on the book in front of me. So actually, let’s let that go. It’s not germane.

The worldbuilding: Sometimes you don’t realize how status the quo was — and how stifling you were finding it — until you get something that shifts away from it. Hitomi lives in a decidedly non-European world. Light skin reads as foreign to the people in Hitomi’s native Karolene, the king is a sultan, and the fishing boats are dhows. There’s something refreshing and surprising about reading a fantasy book that doesn’t make you look around for Yorks and Lancasters.

(No disrespect to George RR Martin.)

(Just, not everywhere is England. Not everywhere is even Europe. It is good when books remind you of that fact.)

Meanwhile, Hitomi’s a street thief, which means she can sneak through alleys and run across roofs and pick complicated locks with the same sort of flair and insouciance you’d like to imagine you would possess as a teenage magic street kid. See how when you put those words together, “teenage magic street kid,” you automatically start to root for that person without knowing anything further about them? And on top of that, Hitomi thinks on her feet and is ferociously devoted to the resistance cause. When you leave her behind at the end of the book, you want to know where she goes from there. One novella (to steal a phrase from Ronlyn Domingue’s The Mercy of Thin Air) is not enough for the trouble of which she is capable.

Next I shall read Thorn! Everyone raves about that too, and it will be a perfect Once Upon a Time fairy tale read in case Poison doesn’t work out for me. (Facts: I have grave concerns that Poison isn’t going to work out for me.)

I am participating in Carl’s Once Upon a Time challenge, and this has been my Fantasy book for it. Still to come are mythology, fairy tale, and folk tale books. Visit the reviews site to see what other people have been reading!

  • yay, you’re reading Thorn soon! And in turn I shall read Sunbolt, which sounds all sorts of awesome.

    • Gin Jenny

      Yay, I am reading Thorn soon! I’m excited for us both!

  • Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

    Embarrassed that I have not heard of this author. She sounds like my exact cup of tea too.

    • Gin Jenny

      I think she’s sort of new? I mean she has not been publishing books for super long. So you are not behind the times — some of my favorite bloggers have been talking about her, which is why I’m aware of her. (Yay bloggers!)

      • Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

        When I looked up Thorn I realized that I HAD heard of her, probably from Ana, only I didn’t put her on my To Read list. Have remedied that now.

  • I don’t usually like novellas, but I loved Sunbolt.. I also appreciated Khanani’s approach to the Goose Girl tale in Thorn. I want more from Intasar Khanani!

    • Gin Jenny

      I’m so excited to read Thorn! The Goose Girl is one of those wonderfully weird fairy tales that writers don’t often seem to adapt because they’re so strange. I can’t wait to see what Khanani does with it.

  • I am so reading this book! I love fantasy in the Arabian / Middle Eastern world, maybe because I grew up there? I don’t know, but those are the stories I grew up with (another reason why I loved Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories) and this one seems just in that realm too.

    • Gin Jenny

      It’s always just great to read fantasy that’s not set in an analogue of Europe. I wish that were more common. Are you aware of the Tiamat’s Terrain series that has? It’s a bi-monthly post that comes out to discuss genre-lit in the Middle East.

  • Is this the same as the tv series
    love to get hold of it

    • Gin Jenny

      I don’t think so! It’s quite new, and I am not sure TV knows about it so far.

  • Nat

    I had the perfect reading plan for this week and now all I can think of is that I need this book in my life. Why are you doing this to meee?

    • Gin Jenny


      • Nat

        Do you know how perfect my reading plan was? DO YOU? Now, because I’m so awfully susceptible to your reviews, I *must* read Sunbolt AND Thorn AND (maybe even) Sunshine. Unacceptable!

  • I hadn’t heard of this. I’m so glad I have now!

    • Gin Jenny

      Yay! You should check it out, it’s good!

  • aartichapati

    YESSSS! I am so glad you enjoyed this one and that you have plans to read Thorn. I think, based on Khanani’s blog, that the sequel to Sunbolt may be out soon-ish, too. HOORAY!!

    • Oh, wow. I hadn’t heard about the sequel. Hooray!

    • Gin Jenny

      I am glad too, and thanks so much for recommending Khanani so highly! I know I heard about her from several places, and you were definitely one of them. 🙂

  • I remember talking about the Sunshine comparisons with you back when I made my blog post! They’re unfortunate, but I do think unintentional on Khanani’s part.

    I feel like the first half, in the city, was the strongest. It falls more into cliche territory with the dark forest and vampires at the end.

    • Gin Jenny

      Yeah, I liked the parts in the city better too. That said, I can imagine the dark forest/vampires/magic stuff being really fascinating, once Khanani gets space to really dig into them. I am kind of excited about that for the sequel(s?).

  • I’m super excited for you to read Thorn. I really loved it.

    • Gin Jenny

      I can’t wait!

  • WELL I went and bought this for my kobo before even finishing reading your review. It sounds so great!

    If you love non-England fantasy/fairy tale re-writes I highly, highly, highly recommend The Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale. Actually, EVERYTHING by Shannon Hale. She’s like Robin McKinley, in that she writes a lot of fairy tale re-workings. She wrote a Goose Girl book which is also excellent.

  • An intriguing beginning. I’m in the midst of Martin’s Dance with Dragons and am growing increasingly tired of so much fantasy being so British and European. Will have to keep this one in mind for the future.

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