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Intisar Khanani – Sunbolt

Book Cover

Battling the enemy, magicking them away.

Publisher: (self-published)
Pages: 120
Type: Fiction
Age: Young Adult
ISBN: 978-0-985-66583-8
First Published: 13th June 2013
Date Reviewed: 6th May 2015
Rating: 3.5/5

Hitomi is an outsider in Karolene, which hasn’t stopped her joining those looking to bring peace to the island but does make her stand out to those she least wants to see. The League need to get a council member’s family to safety and whilst Hitomi is told to stay away from danger she wants to help as much as she can, even if it means getting caught.

Sunbolt is a non-quasi-European fantasy that heralds Khanani’s new fictional venture. Short and packed with subplots, it’s a little crowded but at the same time it’s a work of art.

Khanani has a way with words. Her prose is so simple it’s effortless. And it’s absolutely stunning. The text by itself has the ability to lure you into reading the book; it’s a feast for the literary senses and goes a long way to dull the effects of the less successful elements.

The novella is extremely diverse and bucks the usual trend. The story is set in a quasi-Middle Eastern land in an undefined time; there is enough detail for you to come to a decision as to the look, period-wise, that fits what you’re reading. The characters run the gambit from East Asian to Middle Eastern to Western to African – or at least those are the terms we would use (Khanani’s characters describe themselves by physical characteristics) – and magic and the supernatural is randomised. No one type of person is good or bad; the world of Sunbolt is very ‘anything goes’. This is not to say that the world itself is peaceful.

As for the story, it straddles the line between good and not so, and this is all down to the length. Action follows action and the story moves from one subplot to the next without returning to the previous as a book generally would. Because of all the running Hitomi does it can get a little wearing, especially as the story requires failed escapes to help it get to where it wants to be. Whilst, for example, the likelihood of Khanani returning in other books to the League is very high, for this particular book to feel finished one particular plot was needed. Had Sunbolt been a novel rather than a novella there is every reason to believe the story would have been excellent.

On the whole the characters are developed enough to sustain a novella, however Hitomi is lacking. It’s a difficult one. Khanani throws you straight into the action without any info-dumping, which is very welcome. She doesn’t mull over extraneous detailing – she gives you enough to form an image and then moves on. However this does mean that Hitomi’s reasoning isn’t particularly compelling. It’s believeable and understandable on a literal level, but you don’t get to see enough to care as much as you probably should. You will care somewhat because of Khanani’s attention to what’s important – it’s just this length issue again. On the subject of Hitomi, she’s easy-going which is generally brilliant but can make the text a little hard to read on occasion. There is a scene which is particularly violent and nasty for what it does – Hitomi’s mood change back to sunny indifference and slight humour is understandable when you consider that she needs to push past what’s happened, but hard to read from the reader’s point of view.

Khanani favours showing. You get a good picture of what’s around and who people are just from the dialogues and incidental sentences. There are no long rambling paragraphs. But the world building is strictly limited to Hitomi’s immediate surroundings. There are references to the Eleven Kingdoms and a political situation you only see from the chases and imprisoning. It’s third-hand info without the experience and, again, the length of the book is the likely issue. You will care about what’s going on in the scene but not the wider world.

Sunbolt extracts various elements from different eras, places, cultures, and myths, and binds them together in a not unsuccessful way. It really should have been longer but it’s a nice escape as it is. The prose is great enough that you can acknowledge the flaws whilst enjoying the ride – it’s all too easy to get lost, enveloped, in this book. The whole is very promising – it may not be a winner but it’s good enough and Khanani is one to watch.

I received this book for review from the author (Netgalley).

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Jenny @ Reading the End

May 10, 2015, 2:06 am

I think I liked this one more than you did, but in general definitely agree that Khanani is one to watch. I’ve heard wonderful things about her book Thorn, which I think is a retelling of the Goose Girl story? It sounds excellent.

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