Starborn by Lucy Hounsom
Publisher- Pan MacMillan
Price - £8.99 (Out Now)
Death and Destruction will bar her way...
Kyndra's fate holds betrayal and salvation, but the journey starts in her small village. On the day she comes of age, she accidentally disrupts an ancient ceremony, ending centuries of tradition. So when an unnatural storm targets her superstitious community, Kyndra is blamed. She fears for her life until two strangers save her, by wielding powers not seen for an age - powers fuelled by the sun and the moon.
Together, they flee to the hidden citadel of Naris. And here, Kyndra experiences disturbing visions of the past, showing war and one man's terrifying response. She'll learn more in the city's subterranean chambers, amongst fanatics and rebels. But first Kyndra will be brutally tested in a bid to unlock her own magic.
If she survives the ordeal, she'll discover a force greater than she could ever have imagined. But could it create as well as destroy? And can she control it, to right an ancient wrong?
One of the most tired tropes in Fantasy can be the Chosen One that one individual (usually a teenage boy) who by luck magically over a trilogy gains expert knowledge to defeat The Dark Lord (TM) and bring in a new era of well.... usually the Divine Right of Kings (side-eyes to Tolkein). In this first part of a new trilogy (all parts of which will be out this year!) Hounsom gives us a refreshing take in a fascinatingly creative world that I am very much looking forward to exploring in future books.
We meet Kyndra the innkeeper's daughter in the small town of Brenwym on the day her fellow teens undergo a ceremony where they will touch The Relic and find out their true name and role in life. Kyndra who is hoping to find out she can do more than innkeeping is disturbed that when it is her turn The Relic....breaks. Unfortunately at the same time a magical destructive force that has been visitng all parts of Mariar (the continent they all live on). This force known as the Breaking brings an amazingly destructive storm that kills and destroys randomly. Villagers being villagers decide this must be Kyndra's fault despite her lack of any previous magical ability and a feel a good lynching is bound to clear things up. Fortunately for Kyndra two hooded figures who do have magic intervene and then force Kyndra to choose to leave her home and travel with them to parts unknown.
What then follows is a quick journey across the land of Mariar that gives us time to find out that Kyndra has been saved by two Wielders - Breganne and Nediah who can individually use the magic of the Sun and the Moon to heal....or destroy. They suspect Kyndra's brush with the Relic actually suggests that she too is a Wielder and so are taking her to the underground city of Naris where the Wielders are hiding. Kyndra finds herself then drawn into the murky politics of Wielders who make the current Conserative party seem positively open-minded, loyal and trustworthy. Kyndra though starts to fiund that she may have the far rarer power of the Starborn and if it doesn't materialise....she dies.
I love Starborn because it tweaks quite a few things we see in epic fantasy and reminds me a lot of Katherine Kerr's Devarry series in style. It does start in the traditional almost medieveal small town but we are quickly given a surprise as the main way of travel across the country is airship and people are starting to think engines may be useful! Naris is no Hogwarts but instead an underground burrowing of dark tunnels whose residents rarely see the source of their powers. It's oppressive and claustrophobic with a sense that the Wielders are less Jedi but a sect that has started to lose their sense of humanity.
Kyndra I find a believable young woman. She is not blind fully choosing her destiny she wants to survive and go home. She comes across three dimensional - takes time to build trust with strangers and not afraid to challenge them. Balancing her are the characters of Breganne who on the surface is reserved, super-powerful and a model Wielder yet this hides a lot of hurt from her past and Nediah who on the surface is the happier rebel but he is hiding a lot of hidden passions. These two and their relationships led to a lot of flailing here and was nice to see two Wielders actually care about the wider world; I just want them to be happy (*reviewer wails*)
A criticism of the book is it takes a while to get moving as a good fifth of the book sets up the initial meeting of characters but for me this is important as you have to understand where Kyndra come from and why she would return. Once at Naris we move into darker territory (literally and metaphorically!) as we realise the Wielder honestly believe in causing their new entrants a huge amount of pain in order to see if they are worthy. This finally leads to a bloodthirsty conclusion that wouldn't be too far off a Game of Thrones finale and by then the pace of the book is flying.
By the end of the book our characters and world are significantly changed and I am eagerly awaiting later adventures. Hounsom I think really has done something interesting with a genre in need of reinvention and I'm looking forward to how her career develops.