Starless – Jacqueline Carey

About the Book

Jacqueline Carey is back with an amazing adventure not seen since her New York Times bestselling Kushiel’s Legacy series. Lush and sensual, Starless introduces us to an epic world where exiled gods live among us, and a hero whose journey will resonate long after the last page is turned.

Let your mind be like the eye of the hawk…Destined from birth to serve as protector of the princess Zariya, Khai is trained in the arts of killing and stealth by a warrior sect in the deep desert; yet there is one profound truth that has been withheld from him.

In the court of the Sun-Blessed, Khai must learn to navigate deadly intrigue and his own conflicted identity…but in the far reaches of the western seas, the dark god Miasmus is rising, intent on nothing less than wholesale destruction.

If Khai is to keep his soul’s twin Zariya alive, their only hope lies with an unlikely crew of prophecy-seekers on a journey that will take them farther beneath the starless skies than anyone can imagine.

592 pages (hardcover)
Published on June 12, 2018
Published by Tor
Author’s website
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This book was borrowed from the library. Yay libraries!

I’m going to put this in context for you. I started reading this book on Friday. On Saturday I had a lecture to give at a library that was thirty minutes away from my house, about editing. I was there for about two hours. Then, later Saturday night I was the photographer for a wedding. I was there for a long time doing my thing. Today, Sunday, I took the kids to the planetarium for a while, and then I had a horrible headache so the two-year-old and I took a three-hour nap. I’m saying all that to say, this book is 586 pages long, and it’s got lots of layers and texture, and I read the entire damn thing in two days that were packed full of activity and kids.

Starless is that good, folks.

I don’t even really know where to start. First of all, Carey is one of my favorite authors. I absolutely love her lush, lyrical prose. She also has a knack for making a first-person perspective book feel open, textured, and full of interesting perspective. First-person POV books tend to feel sort of closed off to me, and limited, but I’ve never encountered a Carey book where that feels true. Furthermore, I think Carey excels at it.

Starless is no different. She marches out all the hallmarks of her writing and shows off all of her strengths. This book is split into three sections. These sections are all so different they are almost their own books, but they are all related, each building off of the one before it. They belong together. The second section of the book wouldn’t mean as much to me if I hadn’t read the first section before it, if that makes sense. Anyway, the first section is our protagonist, Khai, in a training school of sorts in the middle of the desert. The second section is where Khai moves to the city to act as the shadow for the Sun Blessed that he’s been born to. The third section is where Carey takes readers on a tradition action/adventure/quest romp across a vast world that we’ve only heard bits and pieces of before.

Each section has its strengths, and I will say that I usually find training schools and boats incredibly tedious. Both themes turn me off pretty fast, but I was so absorbed in this book that I don’t think “turn off” is something that I was capable of. First of all, the training school, youth and growth first part of the book was more of a personal journey, and rather lacking in long infodumpish sections of dialogue, which I hate. This was Khai learning who he is. The second section is where we get introduced to the city and the intrigue of the royal family. The bond between Khai and his charge forms, and we get to see how both characters interact with each other and play a role in the world they’ve been born into. The third, I will admit, was my least favorite part of the book, but even saying that I have to admit that it was intense, and gripping. This is where they go on their epic adventure, and we see more of the world, and our protagonists evolve as they are tested against it.

Now, not everything about Khai is what it seems, and I have to say if you’re a reader who is interested in gender identity, sexuality, and/or disability, then you really need to check out this book. I almost hesitate to say too much here, but Khai is a girl raised as a boy, and this impacts his identity and understanding of himself and gender as a whole throughout the book. I have to say, Carey handles this really well, with grace and obvious attention to the tug-of-war that people who face gender identity question must face regarding themselves, and the world they are part of.

Now, when Khai meets Zariya, his charge, I just about came out of my skin with glee to realize that not only do we have a character who is biologically female but identifies mostly as male, occasionally (rarely, uncomfortably) female, but we also have a character with a disability. Zariya has to use canes to walk, as she suffered an illness as a child that left her with physical limitations. As a cane user with mobility issues, I’m really sensitive to how this stuff is portrayed. There are small details throughout the book where Zariya tells Khai that he has to let her do what she can, when she can. IE: Don’t help me unless I specifically ask for your help. There are moments when she has to walk up or down stairs and it’s painful and hard, and that difficulty is openly discussed.

She hopes to be cured, but she’s resigned to her disability. That’s something I acutely identify with. I’m resigned to the fact that I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrom. I accept that it is part of me. I accept that it is chronic and degenerative. I accept that there is no cure. I hate it. I absolutely hate it, but I accept that it is part of my life, and that acute tension is very, very well done with Zariya, and her hope and her crushing disappointment, her feelings of guilt and inadequacy, and all the other emotional things that get tied up in this.

There was a part where Zariya sat down, and Khai moved to help her and she told him not to help her because “down is easier than up” and I just thought, “Good hell, Carey really researched this stuff!” mixed a bit with “THAT’S MY LIFE!” and a dash of “SHE’S GOT CANES AND SHE IS STILL A BADASS!”

And a total fistbump from this disabled woman, because it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside to see a badass protagonist who has to use canes to get from Point A to Point B, and all of the things that are involved with that, emotional and physical, aren’t hidden but actually openly discussed.

There’s this belief that we should ignore disabilities, especially when people care about each other. The thought seems to be, if you care about someone you don’t see their disability, but that’s really not the case. If someone cares about me, I want them to know everything I can and can’t do, so they are prepared and I am prepared as well, and Carey puts that in her book in spades. Not only regarding the disability, but also Khai’s gender identity. There’s a discussion (I put a picture of it on Twitter on Saturday), where Zariya and Khai are talking when they first meet, and she asks him something like, “Do you want me to call you he or she? I don’t want to offend you” (paraphrased, obviously) and I just wanted to high-five the universe, because these are the issues that people want to have discussed, and need to see discussed, and seeing it so open, honest, and not awkward in literature is vitally important.

People want to see themselves in the books they read, and by damn, Carey just did it for a whole lot of us.

And wow, this review has really turned into a tirade all its own, right?

I’m going to pull myself in here a bit and say that this book was amazing. It shows all of Carey’s strengths, with evocative prose, fantastic world-building, excellent character development, and all of these fantastically highlighted issues of import to so many people.

So, basically, read the damn book.


5/5 stars

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