Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani. ★★★★
Sunbolt is the first in a planned series of novellas all following Hitomi, a street thief with untrained magic. The first installment was certainly part of a series – while the ending felt like a natural stopping point, the story has a whole had only just begun.
In this case, the cover blurb gives a fairly accurate summation, so I’ll repost it here:
“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.”
The above really only describes the first half of the book, which happens to be my favorite part. I found this section very original and interesting. I loved the setting of Karolene – there’s so many little details that add so well to the world building. Even though only a little is seen of Hitomi (this is a novella, after all) I highly enjoyed her as a protagonist and am excited to see where she’ll go next.
The second half I didn’t enjoy so much, probably because it strongly reminded me of another book I’ve read, Robin McKinley’s Sunshine. Both stories have similar situations that play out in similar ways, but Sunbolt‘s version paled in comparison to Sunshine‘s. Do note that Sunshine is a long term favorite of mine, and that likely influenced my thoughts.
I’d recommend this one to people who like the fantasy street-thief sort of hero. Beyond that, I’d want to wait and see where the sequels will go.