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Starless by Jacqueline Carey. Book review

June 12, 2018

Book cover of Starless showing a meteor show coming down onto a dark land from a dark sky

Trained in the arts of killing and stealth by a reclusive warrior sect, Khai is destined to be the protector of Zariya, one of the Sun-Blessed. But the trials and training he has received are merely a taster for navigating his way around the intrigues of court while keeping his precious charge safe. If that is not enough Khai and Zariya must take on an ambitious quest which has to be successful in order to safe their world from destruction.

Starless is luscious worldbuilding on an epic scale.

We are first introduced to Khai as he contemplates the failure of his first attempt to kill a man, after which we shift back in time to the story of how he was chosen while only a baby to be the protector of the sun-blessed princess born at the same time. Once done we move back to the present time and the significance of his failed kill. All this effortlessly achieved within the first chapter which alone, clearly demonstrates the elegance of Jacqueline Carey’s incredible capacity for worldbuilding. There is backstory, an introduction of Khai’s physical environment, and a great deal about his world, which is a harsh, yet still capable of providing him with a substantial support network, as well as the possibilities of unexpected allies. That is a huge amount of ground to cover in a short space of time without slowing the plot. But keeping the pace up while layering in a highly textured world is the author’s signature.

The transition from desert to the rich smells, colours and textures of the city of Merabaht is made remarkable and extreme as it is seen through Khai’s eyes. The sense of his nearly being overwhelmed is palpable. Khai has by this point already had a great deal to take on with regards to who he really is and the way in which he perceives himself physically and psychologically. Carey’s writing really relishes these new experiences to which Khai must adapt.

Once again Khai is a given an anchor and guide in the form of Zariya, not necessarily because she has all the answers, but because she knows who to trust and who to ask the right questions. Zariya is therefore not only someone he must protect, but someone who can help Khai to navigate the Machiavellian schemes of the harem, as well as live amongst a vast population of people all thronging together within and without the palace walls.

There is an instant mutual understanding and trust between Khai and Zariya. Although the fallen gods underpin this tale it is very much a book about intimate relationships and the value of friendship and loyalty. The love described in this book is not about instant lust and sexual attraction, but a deep, instinctive connection between two people, which is part of an unconditional love. Khai the shadow and her Sun-Blessed soul twin Zariya are delightful characters and very much come over as two halves of a whole. You would have to lack a soul not to like them, nor any of their faithful and compassionate allies.

Starless is a standalone novel and for that reason the epic story did feel a little rushed at the part of the quest and I wanted to know more about the places Khai and Zariya visited. But as a whole Starlessis an excellent fantasy book which spans the young adult and adult market and a story which can be enjoyed more than once.

Starless was courtesy of Tor.

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