Book Review

Starless by Jacqueline Carey


I adore Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series, and I was delighted to find a new standalone epic fantasy novel from this author.  I was intrigued by the premise of an ancient prophecy and a child raised from birth by a warrior caste, and I knew from the first page that I was in for a treat.

I was nine years old the first time I tried to kill a man…

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.

Starless is split into three sections, and begins with Khai’s training in the desert.  Born during an eclipse, Khai and Princess Zariya have never met, and yet Khai’s training is for the sole purpose of being able to protect Zariya.  While I enjoyed the whole novel, this first section was my favourite – I loved seeing Khai develop and grow as the necessary skills to protect Zariya were honed.  While it may not sound all that interesting, Khai’s training is not entirely straightforward, and there were a few unexpected twists that I really enjoyed.  The training continues until Khai’s sixteenth birthday, at which point Khai and Zariya are introduced.  At this point the reader moves, with Khai, into the royal palace, with all the politics, intrigues, and manoeuvring for power that this entails, and Khai must learn a new set of skills to deal with courtly intrigues.  While quite different to the first section, it was no less enjoyable, and it allows the reader to find out more about the world in which Starless is set.  The final section is more action based, and follows a quest-based fantasy narrative as the parts of the prophecy are gathered, interpreted, and the key players begin to assemble as Khai and Zariya take on the dark god Miasmus.

Carey’s characters are brilliantly developed, and Khai is a character that I found it easy to get behind and cheer on.  Despite Khai having a single purpose – that of protecting Zariya – this is a complex character who I loved watching grow and develop as the novel progressed.  While I loved Khai, my favourite character, despite not appearing much in the latter parts of the novel, was Brother Yarit.  At the start of the novel, Yarit joins the Temple of Winds where Khai’s training takes place, and immediately upsets many of the others, partly due to his background and forthright, say what you think attitude.  Yarit brings with him a whole new set of skills for Khai to learn, and which prove useful later in the novel.  Zariya is also a strong character, although not in the obvious sense.  Unable to walk unassisted due to a childhood illness, she is extremely intelligent, and shows a great strength of character throughout.  She is brave and fiercely determined, and I couldn’t help but admire her.

Starless is quite different to Kushiel’s Legacy series – not better or worse, but different.  Starless has more of a coming of age / young adult vibe, and plays upon the tropes of the chosen one and an ancient quest.  There are some themes in Starless that seem to be common throughout Carey’s work, particularly ideas around gender, identity, and love, and Starless is no exception.  The writing is lush, and the world-building and mythology second to none, and this is a novel that had me hooked from the first page.

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