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Starless by Jacqueline Carey

Starless (2018)

by Jacqueline Carey

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Khai was born at a propitious time and chosen by the gods to be the Shadow of one of the Ageless, the rulers of his country who live for hundreds of years by eating sacred seeds. He’s raised as a fighter, killing and beating grown men at an improbably young age. He’s also bhazim—born in a female-identified body but raised as a man, something he finds out relatively late in his life (and he mostly continues to identify as a man). When he meets his Ageless match, they embark on an improbable journey to save the world from an angry god. Carey does some unusual things here, most obviously that she tells a full story in one volume where many would stretch it out to at least a duology. Khai’s companion doesn’t have full use of her legs and (spoiler) doesn’t get magically healed even as she gains other magic powers. Khai’s own culture of origin is sexist and constraining for women but they encounter, and don’t have a hard time with, other cultures—though some of the culture clash is notable, for example the people who always use sarcasm/minimization and thus sound super confusing to Khai because they’re saying the opposite of what they clearly mean. I liked Carey’s take on fate and “racial” characteristics demanded by the respective gods much better when she was redoing the Lord of the Rings from the bad guys’ side. ( )
  rivkat | Jan 1, 2019 |
It's a nice story with some interesting characters, but the overall world seems to lack details. The first third of the book is great, but afterwards the whole thing seems a bit rushed with way too much reliance on prophesies. ( )
  Guide2 | Sep 10, 2018 |
I’ve just been on an adventure with Khai and Zariya. The desert sand is still wedged in creases, the sea salt adhering to my hair, and some jungle forest mystery patch is making it’s home in the shady part of my imagination. I’m a long time fan of Carey’s works but Starless may have surpassed them all. The plot was unexpected, the characters unforgettable, and the settings deadly beautiful.

A beautiful mythology wends it’s way through the plot. The stars, children of the sun Zar and he three moons, were cast from the heavens ages ago. Now these stars reside throughout the world, each gifted and bestowing their gifts upon mortals. Sometimes this is through direct interaction, sometimes through objects like rare seeds or a magical pearl.

The story is told through Khai’s eyes. He grows up in a desert fortress being trained by the monks on a variety of skills. He was born with a destiny: to be the Shadow to the Sun Blessed, Zariya. Once we’ve gotten to know Khai good and well (several years have passed), he goes to the royal palace to serve as Zariya’s body guard and confidante.

Since I had already fallen in love with Khai, I wasn’t sure I would bond as well with Zariya. Her world is so very different from the desert fortress but she has not been without her trials. An affliction challenges her daily. On top of that is the endless intrigues, making it difficult to trust anyone other than her Shadow. Zariya, being the last daughter of the last wife, believes she is destined for a simple marriage and child bearing. However, prophecy steps in and drags Zariya and Khai off on a world-saving adventure.

If Jacqueline Carey were ever to write horror, she would send a tremble through the entire genre. The creepy critters from the sea that threaten to decimate the world are truly things of nightmares. I thought the ants from the 3rd trilogy in the Terre D’Ange Cycle were scary; however, the critters from Starless take the cake.

I loved the gender fluidity of Khai’s character. The desert people call it ‘bazim’ (not sure on spelling). Khai grew up among only males but once he moves to the palace, he spends most of his time in the women’s quarter, guarding Zariya. There he learns about women and starts questioning his own gender-based roles in society. It’s all very well done. As Khai interacts with more cultures, each shares their take on the matter, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes bluntly. Khai grows by leaps and bonds and I loved his character all the more by the end of the tale. 5/5 stars.

The Narration: Caitlin Davies did a great job with this book – a truly top notch performance. She provided so many different accents, keeping all the characters unique. Plenty of emotions, subtle and not, were on display in this tale and Davies gave them all their due. I especially enjoyed the valiant Mayfly. 5/5 stars. ( )
  DabOfDarkness | Aug 6, 2018 |
A complete save-the-world fantasy with a good combination of new and classical elements. It brought home that in presenting world building advantage a very young protagonist being educated outside the mainstream of the action is a great advantage. I found the fist ⅔ of the narrative more enjoyable as the we follow our protagonist prepare for the roll of shadow or protector of the young princess, finally meet the young princess and embark on the voyage to a new home which takes an unexpected turn. After that it becomes more of a Baron Munchausen tale of overcoming overwhelming challenges with the special talents of a special crew. There are even zombies. My least favorite adversaries. The pace is sprightly throughout, the quick changes of scene in the last ⅓ make it a bit frenetic. The characters are very well done, the world intriguing, though desert strongholds are overdone, and the plot original enough and angled enough from norm to be worthwhile. ( )
1 vote quondame | Jul 7, 2018 |
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I was nine years old the first time I tried to kill a man, and although in the end I was glad my attempt failed, I had been looking forward to the opportunity for quite some months.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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.

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