6 Reasons Why You Need to Read Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani

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If you have read anything I posted in the last month, there is a good chance that I referenced  Sunbolt. If you haven’t heard of it, Sunbolt is a fantasy novella by indie author Intisar Khanani (who also wrote Thorn, which I loved).

There was one complication: I loved Sunbolt so much that I couldn’t write anything coherent about it . . .

So I let the dust settle a bit, and here’s my take on Sunbolt:


Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani

A review copy of Sunbolt was graciously provided by Netgalley.com in return for a fair and honest review.
Summary from Goodreads.com:

“The winding streets and narrow alleys of Karolene hide many secrets, and Hitomi is one of them. Orphaned at a young age, Hitomi has learned to hide her magical aptitude and who her parents really were. Most of all, she must conceal her role in the Shadow League, an underground movement working to undermine the powerful and corrupt Arch Mage Wilhelm Blackflame.
When the League gets word that Blackflame intends to detain—and execute—a leading political family, Hitomi volunteers to help the family escape. But there are more secrets at play than Hitomi’s, and much worse fates than execution. When Hitomi finds herself captured along with her charges, it will take everything she can summon to escape with her life.”

And that’s just what happens in the first few pages. What follows is a dip into a fascinating, effortlessly diverse world with colorful characters, an intriguing magical hierarchy, and an intricate history. And in less than 200 pages.

Han and I salute you

Here are 6 reasons you should read Sunbolt:

1. Hitomi. She is everything I love best in a hero. She’s brave, smart, and quick on her feet, but she’s not perfect. She is survivor, afraid to stand out or call attention to herself, and yet she holds deep convictions that go against the grain of popular opinion. And she’s an outsider with untrained (read: illegal) magical powers. Sunbolt is her story, but the supporting characters are interesting too, especially Val, which leads me to #2.

2. Breathers.* And fangs, and mages, and . . . you get the idea. All of the usual suspects, from vampires to wizards, are part of Sunbolt‘s fantasy landscape. But they’re interesting! Like the many races and cultures of human characters, they have longstanding feuds, histories, and racial tension/prejudices. I want to know more (especially about the Breathers)!

3. The relationships. Like with Thorn, none of the characters fall into predictable YA relationship patterns. There’s no romance, for instance, and even the friendships are full of tension. I will resist writing more about my favorite developments because, spoilers!

4. The Shadow League. First off, they’re a rebel/resistance outfit called The Shadow League, led by the enigmatic young man known only as Ghost. It’s like the Scarlet Pimpernel took up with the barricade boys from Les Mis (despite how totally counter intuitive that sounds) and all started fighting for freedom from the shadows. Hitomi and her friend Kenta (a Tanuki!**) are part of the league, though they’re not very high up on the ladder, and I loved how they all interacted.

5. The plot/story/world. These are as intertwined as a celtic love knot. Though Sunbolt is basically an origin story, introducing us to Hitomi, her hidden powers, and her world, is also includes a lot of plot elements/threads that I’m hoping to see explored in later installments. There is a lot here for such a small book, and none of it was too much.

6. The writing. I’ll say it again, Intisar Khanani can write. Her prose is elegant, effortless, and never artificial. Her pacing is great, and she has a knack for narrative. In short, the only complain I have about Sunbolt is that it ended. It needs to be the size of The Lord of the Rings. (Not that the story felt incomplete or anything, her writing is too good for that!)

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars. A brilliant fantasy adventure with a strong heroine and an interesting world.

Footnotes: *You’ll have to read the book to find out about Breathers.
**Tanuki: Japanese Raccoon Dog, and a legendary shapeshifter in Japanese mythology
FURTHER READING: If you liked Sunbolt try:
Sabriel by Garth Nix
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
The Westmark Trilogy by Lloyd Alexander
The Blue Sword (or most of her other books) by Robin McKinley

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