Monday, 8 July 2013

Black Sun Light My Way by Jo Spurrier

Black Sun Light My Way by Jo Spurrier is the sequel to Winter Be My Shield, which I absolutely loved when I read it last year. This review contains minor spoilers for book one.

Before I started writing this review, I went and read over my review of the first book and I was struck by something I hadn't realised when I was reading. Although the two books follow the same characters and are linked by a logical sequence of events, they actually explore very different themes. While the first book dealt a lot with ostracism, particularly of mages, the second book deals much more strongly with difficult choices and personal sacrifices.

The torture (of various characters at the hands of the evil Blood-Mage Kell) is also dealt with differently. It seemed to me that in the first book all the torture was near the start and used to establish that Kell was in fact pretty evil. Black Sun Light My Way does something similar with recently enslaved people being raped (well, threatened by rape, I don't think any of it took place on the actual page) and beaten by the invaders. But the most horrific (to me) bits were later on in the book when Kell's torture dungeon was revisited. I didn't think any of the violence was gratuitous but if affected me more than in the first book, partly because of elements of choice Spurrier incorporated into the story (I can't be more specific without spoilers). This is not a book for the faint of heart.

The next paragraph contains minor spoilers about a specific scene.

I also found Rasten's character much more interesting in Black Sun Light My Way than in the previous book. In Winter Be My Shield we saw him as the torture-conditioned and brain-washed apprentice to the Blood-Mage. In this book, we see a lot more of him and his point of view. The way he thinks in contrast with how Sierra (and, y'know, most saner people) thinks is often quite stark. There was a powerful moment when Sierra resists a particularly horrible punishment (easily the most sickening start to a scene) and Rasten can't understand why she wouldn't just submit and bide her time. It's impossible for the reader not to be on Sierra's side (I hope) and the whole scene was a stark and frustrating demonstration of just how much psychological damage Kell has inflicted on Rasten in four years.

On a cheerier note, Delphine, a mage from the invading country, becomes an interesting prominent character. Her role evolves significantly over the book and I found it most interesting when she was used to give an outsider's perspective on the characters we know and love. Spurrier uses her to great effect to highlight some of the differences between her culture and the other main characters', at the same time helping the reader understand how aspects of both cultures work. She was a character that at different times I cheered for and against, and that I could feel that way is a mark of Spurrier's excellent writing skills.

The last thing I want to mention is that I loved the ending. No details because spoilers, but it's not your usual book two ending. More got resolved than I expected, but there's no shortage of problems left for the characters to deal with in book three.

Black Sun Light My Way was an excellent read. I don't recommend skipping Winter Be My Shield, so if you haven't read the first book, do that first. In general, though, I highly recommend this series to all lovers of epic/high/big fat/whatever you want to call it fantasy. As I said earlier, it's not for the faint of heart, but on the other hand it's not significantly worse (in terms of ick and violence) than a lot of the genre.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2013, Harper Voyager AU
Series: Children of the Black Sun, book 2 of 3
Format read: Paper, gasp!
Source: Real life book shop
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

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