A Darkness at the Door review


Note: I received an ARC and am voluntarily leaving an honest review. Triggers for this book include child abduction, violence, execution and torture.

What a ride this book takes you on, and what an amazing arc for Rae! Better still, the outstanding plot points from Thorn return in A Darkness at the Door, in a way that isn’t forced and that I found very satisfying.

I didn’t get the whole “book boyfriends” thing until I read this book and Bren came along. In the early chapters of The Theft of Sunlight, we’re assured Rae will never get a match because of her turned foot and mobility issues. In A Darkness at the Door, Bren frequently laments that Rae is hard to keep up with. She’s a force for sure, because of both her determination and her goodness, and it is fantastic to see a person who sees that falling for her, and vice versa.

Slowly, Rae recaptures every scrap of dignity she lost in The Theft of Sunlight, redefining what it means to be a country girl in the city (hint: it means being more capable and grounded, now that she’s free from the pretenses of palace life). We also see her practice self-acceptance and body positivity, and coming to terms with the benefits of using a cane. In one scene, Rae thanks her body for how far it carries her, including the foot so often referred to as a limitation. She even uses opponents’ ableism against them. The disability representation is exceptional here.

This is an action-packed book with plenty of heart to balance its darkness. I can’t help but rave about the entire series, and the wonderful heights its heroine reaches in this last installment. Because I have the sense of there being so many more stories to tell in Rae’s world, I can only hope we’ll return to Menaiya again someday–or at the very least to wherever Bean is.

My rating:

To learn more about this author, visit booksbyintisar.com.

The Theft of Sunlight review

Fans of Tamora Pierce won’t want to miss this one. Up next is my much belated The Theft of Sunlight review!

The Theft of Sunlight review graphic

The Theft of Sunlight is an issues book without compromising action and story, and I am there for it! Like in Thorn (Dauntless Path #1–find my review here), there are challenges relating to an abusive family members, corruption and class disparity. There’s also sweet romance—this time, between country girl turned lady-in-waiting Rae and a thief.

Rae’s story continues after The Bone Knife, which appeared at the end of Thorn. Cleverly, we haven’t  left Princess Alyrra behind, either, even with the protagonist switch. The Menaiyan palace is viewed with fresh eyes, we have disability rep and Rae becomes a crusader to stop human trafficking after her best friend’s sister is snatched. It’s a dark road to go down, yet the story is well-balanced and never hopelessly grim. Delving into the underbelly of the capital brings an array of colorful, dangerous and riveting thieves with it. Think Lila Bard in V.E. Schwabb’s A Darker Shade of Magic.
The Theft of Sunlight cover

This book reminded me a lot of Alanna: the First Adventure (my review here), with an altruistic but grittier version of George in Bren (it’s generally much darker than Alanna, even in the glittering palace). I also think of Vanessa Len’s Only a Monster (my review) as a good “if you liked that, read this” title. Rae is a great protagonist up against an almost hopelessly powerful enemy (enemies, really), and I felt like she was really coming into her own by the end of the book. I don’t think the cliffhanger was too bad, either. I do need that next book, though!

My rating:

To learn more about this author, visit booksbyintisar.com.

A Darkness at the Door cover reveal!

If you’re familiar with me through my blog or social accounts, you know I’m an Intisar Khanani super fan. As such, I could not be more excited for her next book release in the Dauntless Path series, A Darkness at the Door! I’m fortunate to be a part of her latest cover reveal by the excellent Jenny Zemanek (who has done all of her indie covers, too) at Seedlings Design Studio.

For those not familiar with the series, it begins with a goose girl retelling in Thorn (read my review here), then continues Princess Alyrra’s story in a really interesting way. With new protagonist Rae, the series delves into the social problems of Menaiya and its missing children in The Theft of Sunlight.

The Dauntless series…

A Darkness at the Door (Dauntless Path #3) quote
  • has disability rep through Rae
  • reps middle eastern culture and peoples through its kingdom and Menaiyan characters
  • deals with abusive families through Alyrra
  • is full of sweet romance (and a somewhat star-crossed one with Rae and thief Bren)
  • draws from real life to bring attention to human trafficking in The Theft of Sunlight (and undoubtedly in A Darkness at the Door)
  • has tons of action and cool, interesting magic…
  • …yet none of the MCs have it! So well executed
  • all have 4 🌟 or higher ratings from me

At the moment, Intisar Khanani is also running a Kickstarter for the audiobook and special edition hard cover of A Darkness at the Door, and the gift swag is gorgeous! You can find the campaign here.

So, without further ado…

A Darkness at the Door (Dauntless Path #3) cover

Coming July 22, 2022 from Hot Key

Preorder here

Publisher’s description:

The truth I carry can’t be allowed to die . . .
Only Rae knows how deep the corruption at the heart of her kingdom runs. Imprisoned on a slave ship, she effects a harrowing escape – but her freedom comes with the weight of dangerous debts and terrifying magic. Now, to free her land from the growing darkness, Rae will need every ally she can find, including Bren, the thief who may have stolen her heart. But Bren is hiding his own bloody secrets, and the curses that encircle Rae have sunk their claws into her mind.

While the truth could save Rae’s kingdom, it might destroy her first.

To learn more about this author, visit booksbyintisar.com.

Review: Thorn (Khanani)

I’m here with another fairy tale telling this week, this time by an author in both the indie and traditionally published world, thanks to this very story.

Thorn Review Graphic
“This is the life I’ve made for myself, and I want it in a way I haven’t wanted anything else I can remember. It is a wanting that is quiet, and steady, and deep as the beat of my heart.”
— Princess Alyrra in Thorn

The first time I read this book, it was an indie read from a purely indie author. Years later, Intisar Khanani’s retelling of the Goose Girl fairy tale is a traditionally published release that’s undergone some major changes.

Main character and narrator Alyrra is a princess, but not like you’d imagine. Downtrodden and the victim of years of abuse, she has been all but cast aside by her mother, the queen, and is the subject of vicious hate from her brother the heir. (The events that lead to this extreme situation are detailed in the Khanani’s recent release, Brambles.)

Outside of this, Alyrra lives a quiet life. She enjoys the wilderness around her home, has the respect of the servants and has occasional visits from the Wind. It all changes when she becomes the betrothed of Prince Kestrin, heir of the troubled royal family of Menaiya. And then it gets worse. When an old enemy from court, Valka—the lady once destined to marry Alyrra’s brother and become queen—returns to accompany Alyrra to her new kingdom, Valka uses the help of a vengeful sorceress to take Alyrra’s place—and her body.

A princess uncomfortable with power

“Still, should I run so far that I reach the sea, I should not have run far enough, for the thing I run from rides on my back and in my blood, and will not be shaken.”
– The magically disguised Princess Alyrra, after fighting back against goose boy Corbé in Thorn

Disgraced by Valka, Alyrra is relegated to the role of palace goose girl and, unable to stand being called Valka, becomes Thorn. There, she discovers a different life that has the quiet she always loved. For once, her fate is in her hands, and the weight of a kingdom’s expectations is off her shoulders. “This is the life I’ve made for myself,” Alyrra narrates, “and I want it in a way I haven’t wanted anything else I can remember. It is a wanting that is quiet, and steady, and deep as the beat of my heart.”

But Alyrra can’t quite escape her responsibilities, or what’s followed her from home: the cruelty of the women in her life and the violence of the men. Valka is using the court for her own means, and that of the sorceress; the goose boy Alyrra works with has bad intentions, and women and children in Menaiya are not safe on the streets.

It isn’t all dark. When Alyrra befriends a magical horse, Falada, she has her first true friend, and more are soon to follow. But Falada is never shy (yes, a horse pun) about reminding her that she owes it to Menaiya to stop Valka and take her true place.

In the middle of all of this is Kestrin, and interesting character and unusual prince. Alyrra is never quite sure what to think of this seemingly harsh, then thoughtful young man. As he begins to test her, Valka digs deeper for more cruelty, threatening Alyrra if she continues to meet with Kestrin.

Thorn makes for a grim fairy tale, full of the dark sides of humanity. But it’s also full of the joy of found family, and warms readers hearts when Alyrra finds safety and comfort. As she begins to come into her own, Alyrra becomes an advocate for empathy and humanity like no other.

It’s taken me a while to write this review of Thorn, though I read the new version months ago. I was disappointed with the early part of the book. It didn’t grab me the way that the original, indie version did. When I glanced back at the opening of indie Thorn, I realized what I was missing. Alyrra’s nervous energy kept the early chapters moving quickly and reflected her necessarily alert nature. Traditionally published Alyrra was downtrodden and had given up, and accordingly had a more lethargic pace to her narration. I felt like her personality had disappeared.

I was bothered by this, as you might imagine. I loved this story (I still love it, it just takes longer to be itself), and I felt like Alyrra’s personality was reduced to “resigned victim” at the beginning. In the later chapters, when Alyrra says, “In this moment I stand for all I am, and have been, and have known, every whisper of pain and memory and fear. I am all this, and I will stand strong and fight,” there is a bigger payoff, with more character growth and a larger character arc.

Beautiful books by Intisar

Khanani’s elegant writing shines in the new version of Thorn.

Still, I miss that frightened, engaged Alyrra, so alert and protecting herself at every moment like a rabbit in a forest full of wolves (which is actually a good description for her home). She had survivor’s instincts, and that same drive for self-preservation led her to step aside while Valka became princess, rather than just sit back. She was a downtrodden but active heroine who made an understandable, though unusual choice. Traditionally published Alyrra takes longer to find any rays of sunshine, let alone her power.

One benefit to the slower pace of the new Thorn is that it makes more room for Khanani’s wonderful prose to blossom. “I miss the crisp coldness of the forest winters I have known,” Alyrra muses in the narration. “I daydream of warm bread and mittens and the weight of snow on pine trees. The winter here is a different creature altogether, lying heavily over my shoulders and stealing into my bones.” All of my highlights from this book were of Khanani’s prose.

Thorn left me moved, joyful and heartbroken all at once. No matter how it’s changed, it’s a book worth savoring—plus there’s the added bonus of being introduced to Rae in The Bone Knife, a once stand-alone short story. I can’t wait to read The Theft of Sunlight, where the story follows Rae and just might cross paths with Alyrra.

Note: In addition to the Dauntless Path titles mentioned, the prequel to Alyrra’s story, Brambles, is also available.

Indie Book Spotlight: Sunbolt (Khanani)

I’m trying something new tonight.  This is about to be my first Indie Book Spotlight:

Sunbolt Review

Sunbolt (The Sunbolt Chronicles #1), by Intisar Khanani (Clean YA Fantasy; 2013)

This one’s a fantasy, and would work for YA-readers.

Note: the author is soon to leave the indie ranks, though The Sunbolt Chronicles are staying in the self-published realm as of this post.

So what’s it about?  An ethnically mixed foreigner in a place where that’s a dangerous thing to be, where sinister government plots are afoot (plus those who are working against them).  The main character, Hitomi, dashes through a vibrant market, meets vampires and werewolves, steals to survive and rebels to live.

OK, so when I started reading this I thought, “Yeah, this is a good story.  Well-written.  Not really my taste though.  Why did I buy it?” Then I kept reading and found out.  Yup, Sunbolt was for me.  And I loved it.

Hitomi was a breath of fresh air, and Sunbolt and its sequel (Memories of Ash) taught me a lot about good world-building.  It was also a perfect remedy for the doom and gloom of other fantasy tales I’d been reading.

I actually had no idea the author was self-published until I reached the end (which did come too soon, but in a “Where are the sequels, I need them now!” sorta way).  Khanani, who will be traditionally published with a new version of her novel Thorn, writes clean fantasy, meaning her work contains suitable language for a wide audience.  Mind you, the monsters and violence in Sunbolt may scare younger readers and could be inappropriate.

Official synopsis:

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 Archmage 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.

That’s all.  Thanks for reading!