04 June 2021

Bookishness / The Theft of Sunlight by Intisar Khanani

There is no looking away from injustice.
The only choice is to journey into the dark,
in the hope of bringing light. 

I'll be upfront, dear reader: I've had quite a bit of trouble writing this review. Perhaps my writing barriers are due to an excess of love because I fell into The Theft of Sunlight and want you to love it, too. So I will try to be straight-forward -- just as Rae, the no-fluff protagonist would be.

I read The Theft of Sunlight (Dauntless Path Book 2) by Intisar Khanani in a heartbeat, prior to its release in March. Just as Thorn (Dauntless Path Book 1) has the persistent Princess Alyrra as its backbone, we have Rae at the helm of Theft. I loved Alyrra's quiet strength, yet I am now thoroughly part of Team Rae. She's the older sister you wish you had in your corner, with such a fierce protectiveness for those she loves that she becomes relentless in her quest to find her best friend's missing sister and solve the mystery of the snatched. A country girl taking on kingdom-wide challenges? Rae is no mage or fae, yet she steps up to the intimidating task.

"I believe going to court is rather like going to war: 
one must wear the appropriate armor,
or expect to be stabbed through and trampled underfoot."

Rae comes from the small village of Sheltershorn, where she works on her family's horse ranch, protects her sister Niya's secret, and indulges her youngest sister Bean's eccentric enthusiasms. She's so busy caring for others, though, that she leaves little for herself, merely tolerating her clubfoot amid the stigma she experiences daily. Yet her life with her beloved family and friends is largely comfortable -- until her best friend's sister is kidnapped. Rae's love and loyalty propel her to capitol of Tarinon, where she uses all her wits to navigate court politics and thief lord territories to discover the truth.

Although Theft is technically the first book in a duology, it's helpful to read Thorn beforehand (see my review). It is there that we are first introduced to the richly diverse kingdom of Menaiya and meet several characters who reappear in Theft. It is also there that we learn about the snatched, children (or sometimes healthy young adults) who are mysteriously taken from public places. Some of them are injured in the process. Some are able to escape, but become empty shells of themselves. But often, they disappear without a trace.

We learn much more about the problem in this book, as power and magic create even more complexities. The magical system interwoven into the world and the horrors of snatching is one of the most interesting I've read in a while. Rae's relentless commitment -- and frequent snooping -- shake the status quo and lead her down dangerous paths to learn what is really happening. Yet as intriguing and exciting as this quest is, the story doesn't shy from the ugly. The novel is heartbreaking to read at some points, as snatching mirrors modern day human trafficking. But it's a magic-tinged adventure that makes me hold my breath, wanting to know what happens next, no matter how terrible it might be. (It might even involve jumping out of a window.)

"Cripple. Turnfoot.
Words that have haunted me my whole life -- 
I thought I would cut them out of me, allow myself to live
without the certainty that I was somehow less:
less beautiful, less deserving."

Despite the heroism and harrowing deeds in this novel, this is no Cinderella story. Despite multiple attempts at making a country girl "more acceptable," especially after Rae enters court life, she remains stubbornly -- sometimes painfully -- herself. Her disability never disappears. She is all too aware of her humble upbringing and her clubfoot, which earns her frequent stares, derogatory remarks, and even horrible pain because a shoemaker can't accept that her foot won't fit the literal mold of his "normal" slippers.

Instead, this is a story of self-embrace: as Rae learns to more fully accept all parts of herself, she becomes fuller rather than "less than." She begins to stand up for herself, rather than focusing all of her energies on others' needs. She even opens up to the idea that she can be seen and loved by others just as she is. It's a rough and winding road, but like a whetstone, the journey sharpens Rae. Khanani presents and navigates physical disability in a nuanced way, without sentimentality or victimization.

Then, just as Rae finds strength and renewed purpose in her search ... there is a devastating cliffhanger! I was simultaneously shattered and thrilled. I absolutely cannot wait for the sequel -- and hopefully you'll feel the same way, too.

For a preview of Rae, her family, and a mysterious visitor, read "The Bone Knife," a short story included at the end of Thorn.


The Cover (plus awesome pre-order swag)

On a black background, we see The Theft of Sunlight hardcover on the left, with several items to the right: a signed bookplate, a quote postcard, and character stickers

The cover reflects the same style as the cover of Thorn, yet adds more depth just as this book deepens Menaiya and the Dauntless Path world. The simplicity of Rae's cutout figure is a striking backdrop for the title. I love how the "T" in Theft sweeps around Rae like the magical sash her sister Niya makes to both adorn and protect her. She's framed by an ornately decorated archway, giving the sense that she is on the threshold of the royal court -- and on the edge of adventure. I was glad I bought the physical book so I could better see the abstracted damask pattern on Rae's cloak, a simple yet effective detail for additional texture. Cheers to Jenny Zemanek for designing yet another great cover, this one my favorite so far. Yet I wish we in the US had the UK's book spine!

P.S. I actually have a second set of pre-order swag. Comment or message me if you'd like it -- but only if you promise to read the book! (I'm not currently considering an international mailing, but I could be convinced!)


The Theft of Sunlight (Dauntless Path Book 2; Book 1 in a duology) by Intisar Khanani
Author Site / Publisher / Goodreads / Bookshop / Amazon / My review

The Bone Knife by Intisar Khanani (included at the end of Thorn)
Goodreads / Universal Book Link

Trigger warning: Physical abuse, violence, human trafficking, disability stigma

Note: I received an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to HarperTeen and NetGalley for the opportunity!


Read while _  At the start of the Lenten season, in the midst of resetting, then revisited while grappling with injustices that hit close to home.

Currently reading _ The New Parisienne by Lindsey Tramuta, Memories of Ash (The Sunbolt Chronicles #2) by Intisar Khanani, Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang.

Currently listening _ "Daughters of Zion" by The Porter's Gate ft. Casey and Josh Garrels, "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" - Frozen soundtrack

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