Book Review: Starless

by Jacqueline Carey
587 pages
Published June 2018

Jacqueline Carey has been a little hit or miss for me lately. I loved Kushiel’s Dart, read that years ago. Wasn’t fond of the second trilogy in that world. I read Miranda and Caliban a while back, and it was alright. This, though, blew me away. First, the idea that there are no stars in the sky. They have three moons and a sun, but no stars. Their mythology is that the Stars rebelled against their father, the Sun, and he threw them all to Earth, including one who hadn’t participated as it had been a babe in the womb during the rebellion! The stars now walk the earth as gods and goddesses, and we meet several in the book. (And hear about a few more.) The one god that hadn’t been part of the rebellion, but was punished anyway, has been nursing his hurt and resentment until, prophecy states, he will eventually wake and try to kill everyone. The problem is the prophecy was shattered into as many pieces as there are gods, and spread across the world. There are prophecy seekers that try to collect all the bits, but they’re not very successful.

In Khai’s country, the sacred twins are their gods. Pahrkun the Scouring Wind and Anamuht the Purging Fire. They can be seen on occasion striding across the desert. It is by Pahrkun’s will that Khai is bound to the youngest princess as her soul twin; very rarely the royal family gets one of these, and they are always meant to be bodyguards. So Khai is sent to the temple of Pahrkun’s warriors, deep in the desert, and trained in the many ways to kill. The warriors are all men, but Khai turns out to be non-binary, and this is what lets him guard the princess in a culture that includes harems and eunuchs. I love the relationship between Khai and Princess Zariya, and Zariya is no typical princess.

The book follows Khai and Zariya’s adventures in court intrigue, marriage proposals, sea battles, and prophecy-chasing. The action is perfect, the world breath-taking, and the people beautifully written. I’ve always enjoyed the fantasies where the gods show up commonly enough that people know how to identify them and how to treat them. From the Wind and Fire of Zharkoum’s arid country to the shape-changing Quellin and the terrifying Shambloth, the people that live near them build governments and societies around their gods, which makes each society stand out in their own way. World-building is definitely something that Carey is an expert at.

Starless is an amazing fantasy with a lovely queer romance at its heart. It’s full of varied cultures and enigmatic gods and goddesses and I just LOVE IT. Definitely one of my favorites this year.

From the cover of Starless:

“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.

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