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!